Who Will Direct Star Wars – Episode VII?

With the shocking announcement yesterday that Disney had purchased LucasFilm and that Star Wars – Episode VII will be released in 2015 (presumably in May), attention today has focused on who Disney will tap to take over the most famous film franchise in history. Today’s post will focus on the 20 Directors who I believe stand the best chance of being offered to direct one of the most anticipated films of all time.

First, let’s do away with some names being mentioned who I don’t believe it will be. I think the likely scenario is Disney not picking a super famous director who’s been around for a long time. Don’t count on Steven Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis. JJ Abrams’ name has been mentioned and would be a great choice, but he’s got a lot of projects lined up (he’s finishing up the Star Trek sequel right now). Peter Jackson is busy with The Hobbit series. M. Night Shyamalan may have been considered during his peak (The Sixth Sense through Signs), but I don’t see it now. Sam Raimi (director of the Spiderman trilogy) is unlikely. Kathryn Bigelow is an Oscar-winner for The Hurt Locker, but don’t see it happening. No way on James Cameron – he’s a control freak who’s busy anyway on the Avatar sequels. Joss Whedon would be a natural choice, but he’ll be shooting his sequel to another Disney property, The Avengers, which also comes out summer 2015. Ben Affleck is the flavor of the year director right now, but he was rumored to have turned down Justice League (Warner Bros. huge Avengers type blockbuster coming in a couple of years) and I don’t see him taking on Star Wars. Bryan Singer directed the first two X-Men features, Superman Returns, and just signed yesterday to helm the X-Men: First Class sequel, so he’ll likely be tied up. Zack Snyder, director of 300, Watchmen, and the upcoming new Superman film Man of Steel, would be a polarizing choice and I’m doubtful. I just don’t see Ridley Scott being interested either. Christopher Nolan created perhaps the best trilogy in recent times with The Dark Knight series, but I don’t see him anxious to jump into another film franchise right away.

There are a number of other directors I could talk about, but let’s get into who I think may actually direct it. Here are 20 directors who I believe are strong possibilities. I will count down from 20th to 1st. The higher they’re ranked, the more real I believe their chances are. Provided are brief explanations as to why. (Note that under each director’s credits, I have not listed every single movie they directed in many cases)

20. Alex Proyas

Credits: The Crow (1994), Dark City (1998), I, Robot (2004), Knowing (2009)

Proyas is a director who specializes in sci-fi films. His Dark City is considered to be one of the most original films of its genre in recent years and he’s directed a major tent pole feature pretty successfully with I, Robot. It seems more likely that Disney will go with a younger director with a recent major critical and/or commercial hit, however, and Proyas has neither.

19. David Fincher

Credits: Alien 3 (1992), Seven (1995), The Game (1997), Fight Club (1999), Panic Room (2002), Zodiac (2007), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).

Fincher is one of the most acclaimed directors of the past 20 years and the announcement of him as director would be both surprising and tremendously exciting. I’m not sure if Disney would offer it to him and likely go with a newer director. And I’m not sure if Fincher would take it even if offered.

18. Gore Verbinski

Credits: Mouse Hunt (1997), The Ring (2002), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), The Lone Ranger (2013).

Verbinski has already proven he can handle a big Disney franchise with Pirates. I’m not too sure this would be a popular choice with the fans and would be generally be considered a very safe choice. Still – a possibility.

17. Edgar Wright

Credits: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), Ant-Man (2015)

Wright would be considered quite a bold choice. Known mostly for his comedies, he has been tapped to helm the Disney/Marvel comic book adaptation Ant-Man, which is scheduled to premiere in 2015. Disney seemed confident enough to hire him for that, which could mean they’d offer him Star Wars and Ant-Man could go to someone else or wait a while. A dark horse choice that would make a lot of fans happy, I suspect.

16. Rian Johnson

Credits: Brick (2005), The Brothers Bloom (2009), Looper (2012)

Also would be considered a bold choice. This fall’s Looper got some of the best reviews for a sci-fi film in recent years and the guy is a heck of a director. Fans would likely respond favorably to this pick as well.

15. Jon Favreau

Credits: Elf (2003), Zathura (2005), Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

Favreau certainly did well with the Iron Man franchise and he already has an established relationship with Disney. He’d be a rock solid choice, though many would see it as a pretty safe and slightly boring choice.

14. Joe Johnston

Credits: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), The Rocketeer (1991), Jumanji (1995), Jurassic Park III (2001), The Wolfman (2010), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The oldest director on the list at age 62, Johnston actually did visual effects on the original Star Wars trilogy. He has a relationship with Disney, having directed Captain America last year. Like with Favreau, I think this would generally be seen as a safe and unexciting selection.

13. Matt Reeves

Credits: Cloverfield (2008), Let Men In (2010), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

A JJ Abrams protege, Reeves would be considered quite a great choice. It could happen, but he just signed on to direct the Planet of the Apes sequel and there could be a genuine scheduling conflict.

12. David Yates

Credits: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Parts I and II (2010 and 2011)

Yates very successfully directed the final four installments of the Potter franchise and has proven beyond a doubt that he can handle an already well-established film franchise. One possible hiccup: Yates is rumored to be the possible director for Justice League and there could be scheduling conflicts.

11. Rupert Wyatt

Credits: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Wyatt received deserved critical acclaim for his very successful reboot of the Apes franchise last summer and he is certainly a possibility. Strangely, he was offered the chance to direct the Apes sequel but declined because he said he didn’t have proper time to prepare. But I would think Star Wars would be tough to resist.

10. Danny Boyle

Credits: Trainspotting (1996), The Beach (2000), 28 Days Later (2002), Millions (2004), Sunshine (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), 127 Hours (2010)

Boyle is an Oscar-winning director who would be considered an incredibly bold choice. He’s certainly used to having creative control at this point in his career and he’s proved to be a master at several different genres. Disney could really make waves his fans with this announcement.

9. Sam Mendes

Credits: American Beauty (1999), Road to Perdition (2002), Jarhead (2005), Revolutionary Road (2008), Skyfall (2012)

Mendes is another Oscar-winning director who is not known for big-budget extravaganzas. That is, until a week from now, when the new Bond film Skyfall is released. It’s said to be one of the best 007 pictures ever and Mendes could get an offer for another beloved franchise.

8. Duncan Jones

Credits: Moon (2009), Source Code (2011)

Jones has directed two critically acclaimed sci-films and is considered a major up-and-comer in Hollywood. Plus, he’s David Bowie’s son! How cool is that??

7. Matthew Vaughn

Credits: Layer Cake (2004), Stardust (2007), Kick-Ass (2010), X-Men: First Class (2011)

Another hot director, he’s earned critical acclaim with his first features and got a chance to direct a tent pole franchise film with last year’s X-Men: First Class, to great acclaim and solid box office results.

6. Josh Trank

Credits: Chronicle (2012)

This year’s Chronicle was a surprise hit and a very original sci-fi feature. Upon that film’s release, he is now mentioned frequently as the next director to be offered a huge franchise. Doesn’t get any bigger than this one.

5. Guillermo Del Toro

Credits: Cronos (1993), Mimic (1997), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), Pacific Rim (2013)
 
Del Toro is widely considered one of the most visionary sci-fi directors in the last two decades. Blade II is considered the best of the trilogy, his Hellboy were commercial and critical hits, and Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the most visually impressive features in recent memory. Next year’s Pacific Rim is a huge budget robots vs. monsters movie. Easily one of the most sought after directors in Hollywood, Del Toro may just have too much on his plate, but he may not be able to turn Star Wars down and he may very well get the offer.
 
4. Drew Goddard
 
Credits: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
 
While Cabin was a critically acclaimed horror/comedy from earlier this year, you may be wondering why he’s this high on the list. The answer: he’s Joss Whedon’s right-hand man. Disney owns Marvel, who gave Whedon the chance to direct The Avengers. That turned out, uh, pretty well. Cabin showed Goddard has great directing chops and Whedon would likely jump on as executive producer with Goddard behind the camera.
 
3. Neil Blomkamp
 
Credits: District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013)
 
Blomkamp, a Peter Jackson protege, burst onto the sci-fi movie scene in a massive way with 2009’s District 9, a wildly original and impressive debut. His follow-up is next year’s Elysium, starring Matt Damon which is a big-budget sci-fi feature. If that is anywhere near the quality as his first feature, it is highly possible he gets the offer.
 
2. Alfonso Cuaron
 
Credits: A Little Princess (1995), Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Children of Men (2006), Gravity (2013)
 
From his acclaimed childrens film Princess to the indie favorite Y Tu Mama Tambien to the absolutely incredibly directed futuristic thriller Children of Men, Cuaron is one of the most exciting directors in years. Even better, he directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is deservedly considered in many circles to be the greatest film in that franchise. Next year’s Gravity stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, is science fiction, and set in space. Good primer. It’s almost hard to imagine Cuaron not being offered Star Wars, unless Disney goes with my prediction for #1…
 
1. Brad Bird
 
Credits: The Iron Giant (1999), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)
 
He directed the acclaimed animated feature Iron Giant before moving on to Pixar to helm two of their most beloved films, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Based on his animation background, as brilliant as it was, he was considered an odd choice to direct the fourth Mission: Impossible last year. He absolutely hit it out of the park, resulting in the highest grossing and critically praised film of the series. Based on his Pixar work, he already has a very well-established relationship with Disney. If I’m betting money today, Brad Bird will direct Star Wars – Episode VII.
 
Of course, we could see any of the other names I’ve mentioned. Or maybe even someone who comes out of nowhere. May 2015 is likely when we’ll see the famous scroll in theaters. Don’t be surprised, however, if the director is announced by the end of this year or very early next year, because shooting will likely begin next summer. 
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The Curious Case of Eddie Murphy – Part Two

Alas, the long-awaited sequel to yesterday’s blog post chronicling the highs and lows of one of the greatest comedic actors in film history, Eddie Murphy.

The first post took us through 1984 and with the exception of an already forgotten dud called Best Defense, it was all highs for Murphy. He basically made “Saturday Night Live” The Eddie Murphy Show. A brilliant stand-up special Delirious. The amazing one-two-three punch of 48 HRS., Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop, which became the highest grossing comedy in history at the time.

What to do next? Well before we get to the movies, he did have a #2 hit on the Billboard charts with “Party All The Time”, produced by Rick James (insert “Chappelle’s Show reference NOW). It’s no classic, but it’s got a catchy beat and you can dance to it.

Back to the movies. There would be a two-year break between Cop and Murphy’s follow-up. Was he being ultra picky about choosing his next project, not knowing how to follow-up on the biggest comedy ever? Doubtful, because when 1986’s The Golden Child came, it was considered a disappointment. Murphy’s star power was enough to carry it to a respectable $79 million dollar gross, but that’s about a third of his previous film’s take. The film itself was pretty bad. Lame script. Lame special effects. And Murphy seems bored during most of the movie. Golden Child represented a major example of what could be called a “paycheck movie” for Eddie. Unfortunately, several more would follow.

Perhaps Eddie just needed a project before the inevitable Beverly Hills Cop sequel because that’s what followed in 1987. It’s not near the equal of its predecessor, but it certainly has its moments and it was a huge hit. Directed by the late Tony Scott (fresh off Top Gun), it definitely is more action-oriented and doesn’t give Eddie the chances to shine that his earlier comedies did. But all in all, not bad.

By this point, Murphy was still the biggest movie star on the planet. He could do whatever he wanted. And in 1988, he reached what many consider a career peak. He re-teamed with director John Landis (from Trading Places) for Coming to America. In interviews, Landis has stated that the Eddie Murphy he worked with on America was much different than the one he worked with on Places. He’s hinted that while he was more difficult, he was also someone comfortable being in control. During Trading Places, Murphy was shooting his second film working for a well-known director. In Coming to America, Landis was a well-known director working for Murphy. The transformation to box office king was complete.

Coming to America is an important picture in Eddie’s career in so many ways. It was basically the first comedy to feature an almost entirely African-American cast. It’s the first movie to feature Eddie playing multiple roles. The barber shop scenes, in which Murphy and co-star Arsenio Hall playing nearly every role, are the stuff of film legend today. It’s been said that when the movie came out, many in the audience didn’t realize it was Murphy and Hall until the credits rolled.

I stated in Part One of this series that Trading Places is often what I call my favorite Murphy film. Coming to America is the other one I mention. It’s one of those comedies that when it’s on, I’m watching it. And it showcases Murphy’s immense talents maybe better than anything else he’s ever done.

Coming to America would arguably mark Murphy’s artistic peak, but the following year would prove unsuccessful and Murphy’s first taste of true box office disappointment.

Before we get there, 1989 brought us another album from Eddie. This one was not too successful. For evidence, I submit to you the not-too-suggestively titled track “Put Your Mouth On Me”.

The real disappointment of 1989, however, would prove to be Murphy’s directorial debut Harlem Nights. Eddie would star along with comedy legends Richard Pryor (who Murphy idolized growing up) and Redd Foxx. A 1930s era gangster comedy, Nights was eagerly anticipated. It was Murphy’s first time behind the camera. It had a trio of comedy legends headlining it. But audiences didn’t respond to it. It was too misogynistic. It wasn’t very funny. Pryor was well past his prime at this point. It ended up grossing half of Eddie’s two previous films and was savaged by critics.

I’ve seen Harlem Nights a few times and I don’t think it’s as bad as its reputation. It’s got some hilarious moments. It’s pretty damn ambitious for a first-time director. But it’s also very uneven and ultimately not successful. Murphy seemed to take the reception to his directorial debut badly. He would never direct again.

Murphy would take the easy route for his next film, reprising his role as Reggie Hammond in Another 48 HRS. In 1982, Eddie would be billed second to Nick Nolte. Not this time. Unfortunately, the title is all too accurate. It’s pretty much a copy of the 1982 hit. And just like in Golden Child, Murphy seems aware that the movie is mediocre at best. He looks bored. And also slightly overweight (he’s joked in interviews that Another 48 HRS was his “fat period”).

Eddie Murphy pretty much owned the 1980s up until the very end. Harlem Nights and Another 48 HRS ended that era with two badly received pictures in a row. Worse still, Murphy seemed slighted by the former film’s reception and indifferent and sleepwalking through the latter.

With the 1990s beginning, how would Eddie respond and try to reinvigorate his career?

Stay tuned for The Curious Case of Eddie Murphy – Part Three

Let The Mouse Be With You

I would be a bad, bad movie blogger if I didn’t put something about one of the biggest announcements in motion picture history that was made late this afternoon.

Linked below is a Variety story with the particulars and a Hollywood Reporter entry that specifies what this announcement might mean.

So what happened?

This afternoon, the Walt Disney Company announced that it had acquired LucasFilm for $4 billion dollars.

What has LucasFilm done? Well, there’s 1994’s little-seen Radioland Murders. And there’s the modest hit from this year Red Tails.

Oh yeah! There’s also the Star Wars franchise. And, in what’s been under reported so far, the Indiana Jones franchise.

George Lucas was the sole shareholder for LucasFilm, which he means he made a cool $4 billi with the stroke of a pen this afternoon.

This announcement literally came out of nowhere. No rumors that I had seen anywhere and I read movie news and rumors constantly. Disney quickly revealed in the announcement that Star Wars – Episode VII will be released in 2015 and episodes 8 and 9 will follow thereafter.

Yes, a new trilogy of Star Wars! Starting in two and a half years! George Lucas will not direct them, which is frankly more great news. I certainly fall in line with the commonly held opinion that episodes I, II, and III (1999’s Phantom Menace, 2002’s Attack of the Clones, and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith) were underwhelming. And that’s being pretty kind. For a quick refresher, the next Star Wars film (can’t believe I’m writing that) will take place after the events of 1983’s Return of the Jedi.

Will we see the characters of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo come back? Will it be all new characters? Who will be handed the enormous responsibility of directing it?

All I know is I’m pumped for it. A couple of years ago, Disney bought Marvel Films. To say they’ve had a good track record with their acquisition of that company would be the biggest understatement ever. Remember a little movie called The Avengers this summer?

Disney also owns Pixar. Uh, pretty good track record there.

With Disney owning the Star Wars franchise, it opens the very real possibility of audiences seeing the magic come back in the series…. something we hoped for so desperately thirteen years ago when Phantom Menace opened.

Expect stories soon about how Disney plans to reinvigorate Indiana Jones. But, for now, we know that land in a galaxy far, far away isn’t so far away.

My childhood memories of Star Wars always begins with that 20th Century Fox logo and its unmistakable theme. Now, we’ll see Sleeping Beauty’s castle. That’ll take a little getting used to, but if Disney handles this property the way they’ve handled other recent properties, we as an audience have a lot to look forward to!

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118061434

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/what-a-new-star-wars-384515

The Curious Case of Eddie Murphy – Part One

And now for a new category of blog posts that I plan to write from time to time where I focus on one actor, their body of work and the good, bad, and ugly of it.

We start with Eddie Murphy. He is an actor whose career I have followed very closely. The reason is simple: I believe Murphy to be one of the most talented comedians and actors on the planet. As a fan, he has given me some of the greatest comedic experiences I’ve ever seen and disappointed just as often.

He exploded onto the scene at only age 19, when he was cast a feature player on “Saturday Night Live”. In 1980, he joined the show at a low point in its history. Lorne Michaels had just left as producer (he would return in the mid-80s and never leave). SNL was only five years old, but all the players from the original cast had finally left to pursue movie careers – names like Aykroyd, Belushi, Murray, and Radner. 

Many wondered if SNL would survive. Murphy, it turned out, was the only real bright spot on the show for a while. His uncanny impressions of Stevie Wonder and James Brown. His now-classic characters Buckwheat, Mr. Robinson, and Gumby. 

The show would soon find its groove again, but it was obvious that Eddie was destined for bigger things. At age 21, he would co-star in 48 HRS., a buddy cop film with Nick Nolte. It’s one of the most memorable film debuts of all time, was a huge hit, and proved without a doubt that he would be a massive movie star. 

This is one of the most well-known scenes in the film and it’s crazy to think how great he is and this is his first movie.

In 1983, he would headline his own stand-up comedy special Delirious. It is widely considered one of the best stand-up specials of all time and it deserves to be. Murphy was a master at stand-up and was able to effortlessly combine his brilliant impressions with hilarious stories from his childhood. Here he is impersonating Michael Jackson.

1983 also brought us his second film, Trading Places. It’s a classic. Starring with Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Ameche, and Ralph Bellamy, the film is directed by John Landis, the man responsible for Animal House and The Blues Brothers. It manages to improve on Murphy’s already great debut. I go back and forth on what may favorite Eddie movie is, but this is probably it.

The massive success of his first two films meant it time to leave SNL. He would co-star with Dudley Moore in Best Defense in 1984, which Murphy promptly disowned as a piece of junk. This would turn out to be a minor speed bump in his career, however. In that same year, Murphy would headline his first picture: Beverly Hills Cop. 

Originally intended as a starring vehicle for Sylvester Stallone, Paramount ended up going in a different and more comedic direction. Even though 48 HRS. and Trading Places were big hits, it was unpredictable at the time whether Murphy could carry a movie on his own.

What happened? When it was released, Beverly Hills Cop became the highest grossing comedy of all time up to that point. It literally turned Eddie into the biggest movie star on the planet. At age 23. 

I think it’s probably safe to say that no other actor got off to the kind of amazing start that Murphy did. In four years, he went from bit player on SNL to the star of SNL to America’s box office king. It’s the kind of comedic hot streak that we rarely see, though Jim Carrey would experience it a decade later (he’ll be the subject of a Curious Case blog post in the future). 

Excluding Best Defense, everything Murphy touched from 1980-1984 turned to gold. It took only his first headlining role to break box office records for a comedy. 

What would follow? A really bad movie called The Golden Child, which is where The Curious Case of Eddie Murphy – Part Two will pick up.

Argo-mentum

Just a quick update on the Oscar race for Best Picture that I wrote about extensively earlier and will soon again.

Argo hit #1 at the box office this weekend in its third weekend. This is a very rare feat for a movie to do and it hasn’t happened in nearly two years when True Grit did.

Typically, a movie drops 40-50% weekend to weekend. This is not the case at all with Argo. It only dropped 25% in its third weekend. Besides being a major critical favorite (with a rating of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes), the Ben Affleck-directed film has clearly become an audience favorite. With drops that low, it is clear that moviegoers are telling their friends to go see it.

What does this mean? Right now, it means that Argo is the front runner to win Best Picture.

We will see Lincoln reviews in the days to come. That could change things, but early screenings suggest it’s very good, but not a masterpiece. If Lincoln does not connect with audiences in the way that Argo already has, it may not overtake the momentum (or Argo-mentum, as my lame headline suggests).

The other factor in the way of Argo is Les Miserables, which seems tailor-made for Oscar attention. No one has seen it yet though. So for now, Argo is the film to beat in the Oscar race.

Reading Is Bad For You

OK, not really.

However, this blog post will be focused on my own checkered and brief history with the generally bad idea of reading the book before seeing the movie. We all know how that typically turns out. Not well.

The truth is, I believe that because I’m such a movie lover, I tend to read books visually. I’m already casting whatever actors I think fit the characters in my head. So when the book is made into a movie, unless it adheres to own visual imaginings while I was reading the book, I’ll probably be disappointed.

Entertainment Weekly recently released this list: 26 Disappointing Movie Adaptations

http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20483133_20577348,00.html

I don’t think I’ve read one of the books listed here with the exception of the Dr. Seuss entries. As for the films, I am actually a big fan of Clint Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. If I’d read the book? Who knows?

It’s amazing to think of the list of famous movie series and great films that are based on books:

The Godfather. Psycho. The Harry Potter series. James Bond. Jaws. Jurassic Park. The Shawshank Redemption. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The Twilight series. The Lord of the Rings series. The Wizard of Oz. The Hunger Games. The Exorcist. Carrie. The Shining. Gone with the Wind. A Clockwork Orange. Blade Runner. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Hunt for Red October. Die Hard. The Jason Bourne series. The Silence of the Lambs. No Country for Old Men. Planet of the Apes. Forrest Gump. Carlito’s Way. GoodFellas. All the President’s Men. Get Shorty. American Psycho. Fight Club. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. First Blood. Mystic River. Interview with the Vampire. 

Pretty good list, eh?

Often, when authors hit their peak, we see the floodgates open with adaptations of their work. Two examples:

from 1982-1987 – there were ELEVEN films based on Stephen King works: Creepshow, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Christine, Children of the Corn, Firestarter, Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet, Maximum Overdrive, Stand by Me, The Running Man.

from 1993-1998 – seven John Grisham adaptations (pretty much covering his entire works  up to that point): The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, A Time to Kill, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Gingerbread Man.

The Firm and Michael Crichton’s novel Rising Sun were both made into films in the summer of 1993. I happened to read both of them. While I thought The Firm was a decent movie and still do, I was somewhat disappointed due to some of its deviations from the novel. I recall being profoundly more disappointed in Rising Sun, which starred Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes as police officers who latest investigation leads them to underground Asian crime syndicates. It was not until years later that I began to appreciate the movie more. Why? Simple – I was comparing it to the book.

From that point on, I’ve been very reluctant to read a book that I know will be made into a movie. As I explained in my very first blog post (way back in the early to mid-part of October 2012), I like to walk into a movie fresh nowadays. The most recent example for me of having read the book is Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, which Martin Scorsese adapted and Leonardo DiCaprio starred in.

Strangely enough, when I read the book, I knew DiCaprio was playing the lead so I pictured him the whole time. I also tried to imagine what a brilliant filmmaker like Scorsese would do with the material I was reading.

And, for the most part, I was not disappointed in the movie at all. In fact, I think Shutter Island is a lot of fun because it’s Scorsese doing a Hitchcock movie (similar to what he did in 1991’s Cape Fear).

In closing, I guess I’m too much of a movie lover to allow the book to water down my viewing experience. I read quite a big of non-fiction still (lots of political stuff), but try to steer clear of popular books that will inevitably get the big-screen treatment.

For anyone reading this, I’m curious: ever read a book, saw the movie, and felt the film was better? What’s the most disappointing novel-to-screen adaptation you’ve seen? What’s the best? Ever thought the casting of a role was completely the opposite of your book reading experience? Ever saw a movie and then decided to read the book it’s based on? Fire away.

 

Andrew Shepherd, One-Term President

Yes, I’ve been around politics a bit in my lifetime, as anyone who knows me personally is aware of. So it’s natural that I’m interested in movies about politics. I’ve always paid attention to the history of the American Presidency and films featuring fictional U.S. Presidents are, of course, of huge interest to me.

One of the most famous is The American President, directed by Rob Reiner from 1995. It’s no secret that Reiner is a liberal person, so the movie reflects those tendencies.

A quick disclaimer: I decided immediately that this blog will not be political at all in nature. I get enough of that in my “real” life and my blog about “reel” life will not focus on it (clever, huh???). So my comments here are not meant to reflect one side or the other, but just to make a rather humorous and I think undeniable observation.

The American President shows the fictional term of Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas). He’s a first-term President who’s a widower and the movie mostly centers on the controversy that comes with him finding his first girlfriend since his wife’s passing. The film is penned by Aaron Sorkin, a brilliant screenwriter who has brought us “The West Wing” and The Social Network, among others.

The film in many ways is a Capra-esque tale. It reflects what its makers believe politics should be and not necessarily what they are. Reiner and Sorkin are clearly reflecting the U.S. President that they would want to see in real life.

So, in the movie’s climax, the character of President Shepherd goes off-script in a news conference, as his team have strongly encouraged. The point of his news conference: his Administration is going to focus on getting all the guns out of homes. The music swells. His team is emotional. The President is back!

He’s also running for reelection and the movie leads us to believe that his inspiring speech has just sealed that reelection. Ahh – only in the movies! Anyone who follows politics, even a little, will tell you that President Shepherd’s stance on this issue would totally and completely assure one of the biggest electoral defeats in the history of American politics.

I do not make this statement as a political one. It’s just simple reality. The American President is a fine picture that I’ve seen several times. But anyone with a political brain in their head knows that the real ending of that movie would be Shepherd’s opponent, Richard Dreyfuss’s character, being inaugurated.

This Trailer Is Jay-Z and Kanye Approved

Apparently, if you want people to like your movie trailer nowadays, the secret is to put a Jay-Z or Kanye West song in it. Or a Jay-Z/Kanye collaboration.

I first noticed when Kanye’s “Jesus Walks” played in the Jarhead trailer:


Then Kanye’s song “Power” played in the trailer for The Social Network:

and Limitless:

I guess they needed Jay-Z to get in on the Bradley Cooper movie trailer action, too – so here is Jay-Z track “Reminder” in the Hangover II teaser.

The makers of Safe House must have figured two is better than one, so their trailer features the collaboration “No Church in the Wild”.

Not to be out done, the makers of next year’s Great Gatsby liked that particular song too.

Jay-Z’s solo work got some attention. His “Beware of the Boys” is featured in The Dictator trailer:

And “Oh My God” is played in next year’s Gangster Squad trailer:

And his song “Brooklyn Go Hard” is featured in next year’s Jackie Robinson biopic 42:

That’s NINE movies in the last few years. I’m a big fan of both artists and must admit that I thought the trailer for Safe House was so good (in no small part because of the music) that it was a big letdown when I actually saw it.

Movie studios research the hell out of what works in trailers and I guess Jay and Kanye test through the roof. So don’t be surprised if “Big Pimpin” is blaring through the Hunger Games sequel teaser in a few months.

UPDATED:

This post was written in October 2012 and we’ve got, yes, a couple more Kanye-centric trailer. There’s his track “Runaway” featured in The Hangover Part III trailer:

And – possibly the best yet – the Yeezus track “Black Skinhead” from Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street:

I’ll update more as they come…

Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress

And now, my third and final entry of Oscar predictions. We are now to who will be nominated in the categories of Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. As with the other posts, there are broken down into four sections: Shoo-Ins, Strong Possibilities, Possible, and Long Shots.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Shoo-Ins

Just as Joaquin Phoenix is a lock for a Best Actor nomination in The Master, so is co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman in this category. And just as Daniel Day-Lewis is a lock for Best Actor in Lincoln, early screenings of the film have made it clear that Tommy Lee Jones will be nominated for his work in the film.

Strong Possibilities

I almost put Alan Arkin in the shoo-in category for his role in Argo. The only thing holding me back a little is that he won six years ago for Little Miss Sunshine. However, he looks in.

Possible

We’ll start with performances from two actors in films no one’s seen. First is Russell Crowe for Les Miserables and second is Leonardo DiCaprio for Django Unchained. Regarding DiCaprio, the Supporting Actor category has a rich history with films directed by Quentin Tarantino. Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), David Carradine (Kill Bill – Vol II) and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) were all recognized for their work with Quentin.

Robert DeNiro is said to give one of the best performances in recent years in Silver Linings Playbook. William H. Macy has received similar buzz for The Sessions. Dwight Henry could see a nomination for Beasts of the Southern Wild, especially if the movie gets a Picture nomination. Same with Ewan McGregor for The Impossible.

Buzz seems to be growing for Michael Pena in End of Watch. Having seen the film, I’d love to see him get nominated. And Matthew McConaughey has had a good last couple of years and the Academy may feel it’s time to recognize him for this summer’s hit Magic Mike. 

Long Shots

Because Alan Arkin is likely to be recognized for Argo, that probably leaves co-stars Bryan Cranston and John Goodman out. The muted buzz for Anna Karenina will likely leave Jude Law out. Other long shots include Jim Broadbent for Cloud Atlas, Albert Brooks in This is 40, and James Gandolfini for Killing Them Softly.

WHO WILL GET NOMINATED?

Sounds like a horse race between Hoffman and Jones at this point and the rest of the field is fairly unpredictable.

Alan Arkin, Argo

Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

William H. Macy, The Sessions

Best Supporting Actress

Shoo-Ins

NONE

Strong Possibilities

While I’m not saying there’s any shoo-ins as of yet, there are four strong possibilities. No one has seen Les Miserables yet, but Anne Hathaway is already getting major attention. Amy Adams is likely to be included in a lot of nominations that The Master will receive. As Lincoln’s wife, Sally Field is a good bet to get in. And Helen Hunt is getting rave reviews for The Sessions.

Possible

Jessica Chastain, who got nominated last year for The Help, is said to have an important role in the Bin Laden manhunt thriller Zero Dark Thirty. Maggie Smith is a Hollywood legend and could be nominated for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Frances McDormand could receive her third Supporting Actress nomination for Promised Land. 

Right now, I’m predicting performances in Silver Linings Playbook will be recognized for Actor, Actress, and Supporting Actor. A nomination for Jacki Weaver in this category would bring it to four.

Long Shots

If the movie is a major critical hit that gets a Picture nomination, Scarlett Johannson could sneak in as Janet Leigh in Hitchcock. Same goes for Kerry Washington in Django Unchained.

Who Will Be Nominated?

Amy Adams, The Master

Sally Field, Lincoln

Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

So, there you have it! I’ll revisit these categories over the next three months as we get closer to the nominations!

Movie Perfection: Tiny Dancer

There are times in life where we’re presented with something so wonderful and perfect that all we can do is smile very widely in appreciation. We’re not trying to smile. It’s just comes naturally because of what is occurring.

From time to time, we experience that in a movie. I experienced that in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. I experienced it because of brilliant writing, from Crowe as a screenwriter. Just as importantly, I experienced it from another writer, Bernie Taupin. And from great performers in the movie. And from another great performer – Elton John, who sings Taupin’s words in one of my favorite movie scenes ever.

Almost Famous takes us on the journey of a teenage writer who lands a gig with Rolling Stone magazine. It’s autobiographical – director/writer Crowe had just that job before moving on to direct Say Anything and Jerry Maguire. 

In the film, we see this wide-eyed teenage kid William go from worshiping the records of Zeppelin and Dylan and Bowie to being a part of that world, following around a fictional band named Stillwater. And he meets Penny Lane, a “band aid” (not groupie, that’s insulting according to her), played by Kate Hudson who gives the best performance of her career.

Because of Crowe’s background, Almost Famous feels entirely authentic. We suspect that the good times and bad times we see behind the scenes of Stillwater’s concert tour is based on real-life experiences. And like Crowe’s greatest work, the writing is first-rate and emotionally satisfying.

The band is going through some rough times and on the verge of breaking up when the star of the band, guitarist Russell (Billy Crudup) takes William to a high school party in Topeka, Kansas because he wants to hang with “real people”.

The scene at the party is fantastic. Russell drops a whole lot of acid, proclaims himself “a Golden God!” on top of the roof of the house of the party, and jumps into the pool, much to William’s chagrin.

The drama that we’ve seen in the past few minutes of the movie — the band breaking apart — leads the audience to believe the movie may go down a darker road. Russell and William are picked up from the out-of-the-way house party by the band and its tour bus. In the immediate scene following, we witness the band members, William, Penny Lane, and the hangers-on of the band all sitting uncomfortably on the bus heading to the next non-descript gig.

And, then one of the greatest scenes in recent film history unfolds. Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” starts to play over the scene. As an audience, we assume that it’s simply what we’re used to in movies — a song trying to dictate the tone of the scene. About a minute into the scene, one of the Stillwater band members begins to sing along to the track. We, as an audience, realize that everyone in that bus is also listening to the song. Within a few seconds, almost everyone on the bus is belting out Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s timeless classic. The final holdout is Russell, who finally gets a huge smile on his face and sings along with everyone else. All the drama we’ve witnessed in the last acts of the film is resolved. For all the drama these characters have between each other — music unites them.

As if the emotion of all that isn’t enough — the last part of the scene has William turning to Penny Lane. He’s frustrated with his writing assignment and his process of trying to interview the band. He expresses his thoughts to her: “I need to go home”. Penny looks at him, smiles widely, and replies: “You are home.”

William and the audience experience the same reaction at the same second: this is where William belongs. This is his destiny. And this is why Almost Famous is one of the best movies in recent memory. And this is why I can’t listen to “Tiny Dancer” without thinking of that scene.

And this is why that scene is Movie Perfection.