The Fighter

david-o-russell1

When assessing what present and future filmmakers can learn from David O. Russell’s ideas and practices, it really depends on which David O. Russell we’re talking about. Is it David O. Russell the mad genius auteur, who was as notorious for insisting on his vision as he was for getting in much-publicized spats with actors on set? Or is it David O. Russell the comeback king who, with this weekend’s American Hustle, seems all but guaranteed a third critically lauded and commercially successful film in a row? In several notable ways, the themes of David O. Russell’s films haven’t changed all that much – he’s still as preoccupied as ever with depicting various types of dysfunctional, untraditional, and ultimately affirming oddball “families” – but his filmmaking has changed greatly, a switch that he chalks up to lessons learned from the troubled shoot and reception of (the still-underrated) I Heart Huckabees as well as his unfinished film Nailed. Whatever you think of Russell’s films, he’s found himself in a position to speak about filmmaking from an encyclopedia of experiences (good and bad) and attitudes (egotistical to humble). So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the guy who got Bruce Wayne and Katniss Everdeen their first Oscars.

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Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy

It has been nearly three months since the tragic bombings rocked the city of Boston during its annual marathon, so there will be a film commemorating the event, just in case anyone’s memory was starting to get fuzzy. Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy, the writing duo behind another heartwarming Boston tale, The Fighter, have obtained the rights to Boston Strong, a yet-to-be published book by Boston Herald reporters Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge. The book chronicles the horrific events that took place during the marathon and in the aftermath, as well as the subsequent manhunt for the two Tsarnaev brothers, the criminals believed to be responsible for the bombings.

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IntroBioPic

Biopics are always praised for their lead actor or actress’ realistic or unique portrayal of the subject, but what of the supporting cast? Sure, we do recognize their efforts, they might even receive an Academy Award, but rarely are they honored with something as prestigious as an online comedy list. It’s time to rectify that. Here are some of the more talented, memorable, or uncanny portrayals of people who were important enough to be featured in a movie, but not important enough for that movie to be about them.

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Culture Warrior

For the first time in recent memory, I’m going into Oscar Sunday having no idea who is likely to take home many of the major awards. I’m sure there are entire websites out there devoted to an accurate prediction of who and what will take home the gold on Sunday, but there seems something a bit different about this year. Of the nine films nominated, I don’t have a clear sense of what would be the top five had AMPAS not changed the number of entries in the top category. While The Artist may clearly have more of a chance than, say, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, there’s no grand battle between likely leads like there was between The King’s Speech and The Social Network last year. And I don’t think I’m alone in stating that this year’s uninspiring list of nominees seems to reflect a growing indifference against the ceremony itself. Sure, on Sunday, like I have every year since I was eleven years old, I’ll watch the entire ceremony from beginning to end. And, like every year since I was twenty-one years old, I’ll make fun of the pompous and excessive self-congratulatory nature of the proceedings. But while in most years I have had some skin in the game, besides the two nominations afforded to the excellent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the presence of the transcendentally excellent Pina in the Best Documentary Feature category, this year I didn’t even get a sense that the Academy was awarding […]

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It used to be that shilling your film at a festival meant you were some scrappy up-and-comer who needed a break (or, at the very least, a hot shower). But as festivals have gotten bigger and more dazzling (any event that serves free Stella Artois is dazzling by its very nature), bigger name filmmakers have used them as launching pads for new projects. Jason Reitman is a prime example of this – he premiered both Juno and Up in the Air at the Telluride Film Festival and took them on to Toronto to pump up buzz so that cinephiles everywhere were primed when they finally hit theaters. Did it work? Heck yes it did. So it seemed a bit of a no-brainer that Reitman would bring his next collaboration with Juno scribe Diablo Cody to Telluride and then TIFF. Apparently, not so. Young Adult won’t make an appearance on the festival route this year, and though there’s nothing I love more than needless negative speculation and crying that a festival non-appearance or a release date change means that a film is a flaming brown bag of excrement, that may not be the case with Young Adult. As those eggheads over at The Playlist note, the film “is decidedly darker and much different than what we’ve seen from Reitman before.” The film stars Charlize Theron as a novelist who writes young adult fiction, who heads back to her small town to hook her high school sweetheart, played by Patrick Wilson. It’s […]

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Whenever a smaller film breaks through and becomes a mainstream success it is always inevitable that a series of imitators will soon follow and attempt to ride its coattails. In this case, The Fighter got a lot of critical success by telling the story of street level hoodlums gaining success in the world of hand to hand combat, so now we have trailers for Warrior hitting theaters and news that Training Day director Antoine Fuqua is going to team up with 8 Mile star and hugely successful white guy who raps Eminem to make a new boxing movie called Southpaw. Fuqua was thought to be directing a biopic of another famed rapper, the late Tupac Shakur, but news that he’s close to signing on to this film points to the fact that he must have stepped away from Tupac for now. Probably similar to what was being planned for the Tupac film, Southpaw will detail the day-to-day tragedies of the life of a welterweight boxer as he struggles his way to greatness. I guess the moral of this story is just that Fuqua really likes to make movies about poor, urban people. Now if he could just make something that affected people as much as Training Day he might get somewhere as an auteur. Maybe Eminem will be his good luck charm; he’s at least got to do more for Fuqua’s career than he did for Curtis Hanson’s. [24 Frames]

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This Week in DVD

This is a rough week for the ye old DVD column because fate and coincidence have conspired to keep me from seeing most of the releases. I missed the few that hit theaters, and SXSW has left me with precious little time for DVD watching. So consider this week’s installment a “grain of salt” edition if you will. I’ll return next week with more solid opinions, but for now let’s look at the releases I’m forced to give blind ‘Rent’ recommendations to. There are only two high profile titles hitting shelves, The Fighter and Hereafter, and they’re joined by a handful of slightly recognizable smaller films and some obscure releases that have most likely avoided your radar all together. Like Sugar Boxx… The Switch This Jason Bateman/Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy earns the ‘Pick of the Week’ by default as it’s one of the very few releases I’ve actually seen, but luckily it’s actually a pretty good movie. The two play best friends whose lives get turned upside down when he replaces the semen meant for her vagina with his own baby batter. The film is sweet and funny enough, and both actors prove themselves capable and worthy of the genre.

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This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories. This Sunday’s 83rd Annual Academy Awards will be the second year in a row featuring ten nominees up for Best Picture, and once again that means a list inflated with titles that have zero chance of winning the award. No one really believes the idea was a good one, but it caters to a wider array of movie fans happy to see their favorite of the year get nominated. The five “actual” contenders this year are Black Swan, The Fighter, 127 Hours, The King’s Speech, and The Social Network with those final two films as the front-runners. The nominees are listed below with my prediction for the winner in red…

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If there’s one thing that’s really great about the Academy Awards it’s the manner in which they decide who gets nominated and, ultimately, who wins for each category. It makes little sense to have directors vote on who did the best acting, or musicians deciding on who had the most splendid photography, or screenwriters deciding who made the best non-scripted picture. Professionals in their field decide on which other professionals in their same field did the most exemplary work to represent their profession.

And thank God, because I can’t imagine how you would define what constitutes great directing. The job encompasses so much that great directing can be equally applied to someone obsessively anal about their “vision” just as much as someone who relies on spontaneity and ad-lib to achieve the best results. It can be applied to someone with incredible photographic technique and an eye for scene setup, and another who seems to have little regard for visual appeal. As the matter of fact, as of last year it no longer even matters whether you have a penis or not.

I absolutely have no clue what constitutes great directing despite having my own opinion, which carries no weight because I’ve never done it in my life. I probably couldn’t direct traffic let alone tell someone to film me doing it from a specific spot and focus on my anxiety in close-up and then cut to a slow-mo clip of me weeping when drivers don’t pay attention to me. If I could do that then maybe I’d have an idea what a great director really does.

Thankfully, I don’t have to as the Best Director is decided upon by others who have been there, done it and conquered it in their own way to acknowledge how difficult it must have been to focus all collaborators’ attention to the right areas at the right times to arrive altogether at the same, desired destination; which is ultimately arriving at a final product they can all be proud of.

Here are this year’s nominees for Best Director:

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This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories. As I mentioned in the Best Adapted Screenplay post, the process of making a film involves thousands of moving parts and pieces from the actors to the director to the caterers and beyond, but arguably the most integral aspect of the process is the script. I say arguable, but I’m only being polite. The script is the most important part of a film… it’s responsible for the words coming out of the actors’ mouths, for the shifts in story, for the very tale itself. Actors bring it to life and the director makes it a visual reality, but it all starts from the script. Some folks may argue otherwise, but an original screenplay is far tougher to write than one adapted from a previously existing source. The heavy lifting has all been done for you when the story beats are already laid out in a book, play, or previous film. An original screenplay demands the writer create and craft everything from scratch, from the characters to the story, and the ones who get it right deserve a bigger statuette than their “Adapted Screenplay” contemporaries. And yes, I’m kidding. Anyone who completes a screenplay, whether it be an original or an adaptation, whether it win an award or not, whether it gets produced or not… you have my respect and awe. The nominees are listed below with my prediction […]

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This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories. As you may know, Robert Ebert is promising $100,000 to anyone who can predict every single Oscar win this year. Going 24 for 24 is an impressive feat, unless you have an ethically questionable friend that works at PricewaterhouseCoopers. But, if you have that, why would you be wasting your time on a measly $100,000? Exactly. I don’t have that friend, but I have a graphing calculator and a lot of free time, so I came up with the predictions that I’ll be submitting to Ebert’s contest. I’d better not get a subscription to Red Book or something  for sharing my email information with him. Check out who I think will win the awards on Sunday (written in bold), tell me why I’m dead wrong, and put your money where your mouth is by entering the contest yourself.

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This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories. Unlike last year, the field is wide open for which fantastic performance will earn the naked golden statue of power for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Some fans are sad not to see Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey or Miranda Richardson among the ranks here, but that shows just how strong these performances were. In no particular order, there’s a bartender with a boxer to build up, a mother with a boxer to build up, a Queen with a King to build up, a young girl with revenge on her mind, and a woman who would probably rip your face off and then talk about how great you are to it. With my winner prediction in red, here are the nominees:

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This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories. The Best Supporting Actor category is one of the most interesting. As Cole and I discussed last week, there really is no stable definition of what constitutes a “supporting” role, so this category can run the gamut from scene-stealers (Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight) to memorable parts with a limited amount of screen time (Hal Holbrook for Into the Wild) to nominations that seem only to be banking off the presence of a film in other categories (Matt Damon for Invictus). Fortunately this year saw five pretty strong nominees (and three first-time nominees), but this year also exhibits the potential variance of the category. Here we have a crack addict, a sperm donator, a townie gangster, an unqualified speech therapist, and somebody named “Teardrop.” Let’s see how these five incredibly different performances size up against one another. With my winner prediction in red, here are the nominees:

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Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as CriterionCollector85 and JP2themax in order to discuss some topical topic of interest. This week, they puzzle over how to define a Best Supporting Role. What does that support mean? Or look like? Does it matter how long someone is on screen or how big a catalyst they are? Since the Oscars don’t seem to know…what the hell is a supporting role anyway?

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The Reject Report

That wacky Anthony Hopkins sure knows how to turn ‘em in. With his broad hijinx and penchant for silly string gimmicks. The devil might have had something to do with it, too, as The Rite opened to number one this weekend. It’s opening wasn’t as big as you might expect, but it did a decent job. With a reported budget of $37 million, it should be fine with its mid-teen debut. That is unless you’re going by Kevin Smith math, in which case, the film is a serious dud. That’s a digression for another time, though. The Rite will do just fine, and Hopkins is sure to make many more stinkers films before his days in films have come to a close. His Hannibal days have long since passed, and you aren’t likely to see many more $100-million films from him beyond any franchise work.

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This week, on a very special episode of Reject Radio, Awards Season junkie and editor-in-chief of In Contention, Kris Tapley, joins us to shoot the bull on the Oscars. We’ll be roasting that bull on a spit and serving it for our live-blog next month. Could Natalie Portman lose her sure-thing Oscar? Why did Inception never have a chance at Best Picture? Who will win Best Costume Design?!? We ask the tough questions. And then answer them. Plus, we also review The Mechanic in case you’d rather see something blow up besides an actor giving a thank you speech. Listen Here: Download This Episode

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So Christian Bale is nominated for his first Academy Award. In a career spanning decades, it’s difficult to imagine he’s never been up for one, but if he had to choose a role better suited for it, he couldn’t have done much better than Dicky Eklund in The Fighter. He pours himself into the role so well that it seems likely that the method actor might have gotten addicted to crack just to nail the role down from the inside. Of course, the film within the film is the making of the documentary High on Crack Street, and if you were interested in the real documentary, here’s your chance to see it:

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At the end of the 90s, famous Oscar show writer and Celebrity Fit Club contestant Bruce Vilanch claimed that, “Generally with the Oscars…there isn’t much you can do until the nominations are announced. Then you know what kind of year you’re dealing with – what’s been overlooked, what the issues are.” He was talking about preparing to write the show, but it applies to everyone from the directors, producers and stars on down to the fans. It’s fun to guess around the water cooler (your office still has a water cooler?), but until now, it’s all been speculation. Thankfully, almost all that speculation has been spot on, so we can all continue our conversations about whether Black Swan will beat The Social Network for Best Picture. Whether Natalie Portman has any true competition for Best Actress. Whether, most importantly of all, Colleen Atwood will beat Mary Zophres for Best Costume Design. Here they are. The 2011 Academy Award nominees:

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The Reject Report

Yeah. Now get that song out of your head. Good luck with that. When you’re done, head on out to see a movie. There isn’t much new to partake in this weekend, but, if you’re a big fan of Natalie Portman, Bruce Willis’ son, or Olivia Thirlby (we can just assume on that last one), then you might want to check out the lone candidate for new releases. You enjoy the rest of the report. I’m gonna continue to sing Pinocchio songs to myself.

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I love the Golden Globes despite never wanting to watch them. They are irrelevant in a way that’s completely freeing – meaning that the host can get drunk, the honorees can get drunk, and a lot of yelling can take place during the celebration. I imagine it’s a lot like what the Oscars used to be before they were ever televised. Don’t get me wrong. For the winners, it’s an auspicious occasion. It’s one more group (a diverse one at that) honoring great work done. For movie fans though, the broadcast is pure spectacle, and as someone who has stood next to Foreign Press members asking about what type of underwear Daniel Radcliffe wears, it’s also difficult to take the night all that seriously. Here in the sober light of day, are the winners. Feel free to speculate as to what this means for the Oscars.

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