Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Award News: 4th annual Gopo Awards (Romania)

The very restrained, subtle crime drama Poliţist, adjectiv (Police, Adjective) was the night's big winner at the 4th annual Gopo Awards celebrating the best of Romanian cinema. It had previously won the FIPRESCI Prize and Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. I chose it for my personal top ten list for the best films of 2009. It won six of its ten nominations including Best Picture, Director and Screenplay for Corneliu Porumboiu.

Cea mai fericită fată din lume (The Happiest Girl in the World) led with eleven nominations, but only received the Best Newcomer award for Andreea Boşneag. French-Belgian-Romanian co-production Concertul (The Concert) won four of its eight nominations, including Best Editing and Best Original Score. Hilda Peter took Best Actress for British-Romanian co-production Katalin Varga.

The ceremony took place at the Palace of Parliaments in Bucharest on Monday. The Gopos are named in honor of Romanian director Ion Popescu-Gopo and presented annually by the Association for Romanian Film Promotion.

Complete list of 4th Annual Gopo Award winners

Toronto Urban Film Festival: call for submissions

The Toronto Urban Film Festival is a fairly new event held concurrently with the renowned Toronto International Film Festival. It is held this year from September 1-19, 2010 in Toronto's TTC subway system. The films are played on the subway's digital dosplays.

Filmmakers are asked to submit silent one-minute films on various themes. This year's themes are:

Urban Encounters and Other Stories; Our Environment and Urban Growth; The Medium is the Message; Urban Ideas and Politics; Urban Journeys; The City is a Poem; After Night Falls.

Filmmakers are eligible for over $10,000 in cash and in-kind awards. Winners will be selected by a guest jury of industry professionals. The top three films are selected by a guest judge.

Here is the complete press release:

Film Review - The Black Eyed Peas: The E.N.D World Tour LIVE

The Black Eyed Peas concert at the Staples Center in Los Angeles was broadcast live in about 500 theatres across North America. In Toronto, fans took in the concert at the Scotiabank Theatre at 259 Richmond Street West. Showtime was a late 10:30 start, reflecting the 3-hour time differential between here and the west coast.

The broadcast opened with a half-hour presentation for theatres only, showing behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and music videos. There were a few glitches, with the sound often dropping out for a split second, or drifting out of sync with the visuals during the music videos. The drop outs continued throughout the concert as well.

The 2-hour concert was fun and well-staged. It maintained a sci-fi robot theme throughout the night. The Black Eyed Peas have a natural opening number with Let’s Get It Started, and capped the night with their equally rousing I Gotta Feeling. Each member took at least one solo turn: began with Bebot, rapping in both English and his native language Tagalog from the Philippines, and then breakdancing; Taboo performed on a motorcycle from the movie Tron, and was hoisted high over the crowds; Fergie did some of her solo material - Fergalicious, Glamorous (joined by rapper Ludacris) and ballad Big Girls Don’t Cry.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

DVD reviews - An Education, Sherlock Holmes, Baader Meinhof Complex

An Education
This is another Oscar Best Picture nominee that is now available. I must say, however, that I was not as enraptured by this film as were many others. It's a pleasant enough biopic, with good acting and writing. The direction is on the bland side and it isn't as funny as it tries to be. The story about a young student being led astray by a cad is rather predictable, and some points are glossed over much too quickly. It succeeds well at capturing the '60s vibe, but that will primarily impact those with a fondness for nostalgia. Extras include commentary, deleted scenes (including an alternate ending) and a making-of featurette. 

Sherlock Holmes
This was an enjoyable enough film but also quite forgettable.  Guy Ritchie does his usual adrenaline-charged work, and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law have good chemistry. But Rachel McAdams is somewhat wasted .  I have to add that I'm getting a little bored by every sort of hero being remade as a high-powered action hero, from Jason Bourne, to James Bond and now Sherlock Holmes. What made Holmes fascinating was his thinking ability, his powers of deduction. I can't wait to see the action-hero reboot of the wheelchair detective Ironside. Extras include deleted scenes and featurette.

Film Review – Greenberg

Writer/director: Noah Baumbach; story by Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Producer: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Scott Rudin
Cast: Ben Stiller (Roger Greenberg), Greta Gerwig (Florence Marr), Rhys Ifans (Ivan Schrank), Jennifer Jason Leigh
Low-key indie comedy, 1 hour 47 minutes

Ben Stiller is not normally known for his subtlety. He achieved his stardom with broad comedies such as There's Something About Mary, Zoolander, and Tropic Thunder. On the other hand, indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach makes comedies with particular delicacy. They tend to be a little dark and bleak, and are often on the plotless side. But his writing is keenly observed and witty, and I think he’s much more talented than his occasional writing partner Wes Anderson.

It’s no surprise then that for Greenberg, Stiller gives his most restrained and natural onscreen performance. There are only the odd brief flashes of the schtick which you might expect. It’s a brave choice for him since it isn’t in his comfort zone, and he pulls it off remarkably well.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Awards News: 2010 Jameson Empire Awards

The 2010 Jameson Empire Awards were held on Sunday, March 28 in London's Grosvenor House Hotel. They are voted for entirely by the British filmgoing public. Empire is Britain's best-selling film magazine, and their awards were previously sponsored by Sony Ericsson, but are now sponsored by Jameson Irish Whiskey.

The big winner on the night was Avatar, winning Best film, Best director (James Cameron) and Best actress (Zoe Saldana). The award for Best British film went to Harry Brown, starring Michael Caine. Harry Brown had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2009, but receives its general North American release in the coming months.

Jude Law won the Empire Hero award, whereas lifetime achievement prizes went to Ray Winstone (Outstanding Contribution To British Film) and Sir Ian McKellen (Empire Icon). McKellen said, "It means people have enjoyed the films I've made, or some of them - I suspect particularly Lord Of The Rings and the X-Men movies, in which I play iconic characters."

Complete list of 2010 Jameson Empire Award winners:

Awards News: the 12th annual Jutra Awards

When the nominations for the 12th annual (Jutra Awards) for Quebec cinema were announced on February 16th, some felt that J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) was somewhat snubbed, only receiving 5 nominations. This feeling only intensified when two weeks later on March 1st, the Genie Award nominations (for Canadian cinema) shut out entirely, although it will be receiving the non-competitive Claude Jutra Award at the Genies for outstanding first-time filmmaker. It received some vindication when the Jutras were handed out at Tohu in Montreal on Sunday, March 28 by winning three of its five nominations, including Best Film. It also took the prize for Most Successful Film Outside Quebec.

Dolan was very gracious in accepting the his awards. He said, "I'd like to thank my mother, with whom I share a very different love story ... thank you to my mother, for her free and loving education. Thank you to my mother, for being my mother."

Polytechnique took more prizes, however, coming away with five awards including Best Director. This powerful look at the tragic events at Montreal's École Polytechnique was devastating yet miraculously uplifting, and I selected it for my personal top ten list of 2009.

The biopic Dédé à travers les brumes (Dédé Through the Mists) led with 10 nominations, and came away with four awards including Best Actor. The Best Documentary winner was the outstanding Last Train Home, which examines the difficulties faced by Chinese migrant workers.

Complete list of 12th annual Jutra Award winners:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Awards News: Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards 2010

The Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards 2010 took place Saturday March 27 at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion in Westwood. There were a few surprises. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel topped The Twilight Saga: New Moon to take the Favorite Movie category. The previous Alvin and the Chipmunks film was a Favourite Movie winner in 2007. Miley Cyrus only won one of her four Kids Choice Award nominations. The Jonas brothers were shut out entirely though they had three nominations.

There were two double winners on the night. Taylor Lautner won Favorite Movie Actor and shared the Cutest Couple prize with Kristen Stewart. The other Taylor, Taylor Swift, won for Favorite song with “You Belong To Me” and Favorite Female Singer.

Sandra Bullock had been nominated for Favorite Movie Actress but did not attend. Her rep said that it was never her intention to attend the ceremony. The first lady Michelle Obama received a special Big Help Award for her efforts to prevent childhood obesity. Unable to attend, she gave her acceptance speech by video.

They maintained the tradition of "sliming" presenters and guests with green goo. Those slimed included singer Katy Perry, Apolo Anton Ohno, Date Night stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey, and host Kevin James.
Conplete Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards 2010 winners list

Film Review – Madeo (Mother)

Writer: Park Eun-kyo and Bong Joon-ho; story by Bong Joon-ho
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Producer: Moon Yang-kwon, Seo Woo-sik and Park Tae-joon
Cast: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Jin Goo, Yoon Jae-moon, Jun Mi-sun, Song Sae-beauk, Moon Hee-ra
Crime mystery, 2 hours 9 minutes
Korean, with English subtitles

After making the monster-movie hit Gwoemul (The Host), Bong Joon-ho returns to the crime drama with the suspenseful Madeo (Mother). But this one is also harder to categorize. It combines various elements of other genres to produce something uniquely intriguing. Mother is another masterful film from Bong and one senses that his talent and skill just keep growing.

An unnamed mother (Kim Hye-ja) dotes heavily on her mentally challenged son Do-joon (Won Bin). He’s easily led astray by his friend Jin-tae (Jin Goo) and she does all she can to keep him out of trouble. When a murder takes place, however, police easily extract a confession from him. She tries to exonerate him but the police and lawyers are apathetic, so she takes it upon herself to find the real killer. In the process, she uncovers other uncomfortable truths.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

3D cinema goes from must-see to rip-off

For a time there, it looked like 3D cinema was going to be the saviour of cinema. With the explosion of DVDs and downloading, it seemed like contemporary audiences weren't into going out to the movies anymore. Then came a new generation of 3D films that were vastly superior to the old-school 3D of the mid-20th century. Suddenly there was a compelling reason for everyone to go to the theatres again. Many animated films such as Coraline and Up used 3D to very good effect. Then along came Avatar and set the bar at a ridiculously high level.

But Avatar got everything right. It was an extremely expensive movie to make, with many new technologies invented for the process. Say what you will about James Cameron, but he knows what he's doing and was able to advance the field of filmmaking. And the 3D wasn't just a gimmick for Avatar, but an integral part of the story's content.

One of the film's major themes is seeing. The film opens and ends with Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington) opening his eyes, but there is a huge difference between the two moments. The expression "I see you" was mocked by some, but is a good way to express love without saying it outright - rather like Casablanca's "here's looking at you, kid." The film is about Sully learning to empathize and "see" from the perspective of another species. And Cameron has made no bones about wanting the viewers to see our own planet differently and to raise environmental awareness.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cinéfranco - a celebration of francophone Cinema in Toronto

Tonight is the opening of Cinéfranco, the largest francophone film festival in English Canada. This year, the festival moves from its previous home at the Royal Cinema in Little Italy to the AMC Yonge-Dundas theatres in the centre of the downtown core. Additional screenings take place at the Revue Cinema.

The films are all subtitled when necessary. They come not only from France and Quebec, but also Belgium, Switzerland, North Africa. There are free events such as a screening of the Swiss documentary “Au loin des villages” and a Documentary Round Table on the documentary in the francophone film industry.

Many of the films are comedic and quite charming such as “Tricheuse” (So Woman!) and “Le Coach”. Also included are dramas such as “Eden à l’ouest” (West Is Eden) by the great Costa-Gavras, and the gripping thriller “Complices” (Partners) which closes the festival. The short film selections from Canada and Begium are very strong.

The opening film Le Divan du monde (Everybody’s Couch), is a modest but lovely bilingual film made by Toronto-based couple director Dominic Desjardins and his producer wife Rayne Zukerman. The film is a road trip, sort of like a mirror version of One Week. An Acadian woman returns home from Vancouver to Prince Edward Island and meets an ex-pat Quebecois musician who follows her on the journey.

Film Review – Chloe

Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson
Director: Atom Egoyan
Producer: Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck and Jeffrey Clifford
Cast: Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Max Thieriot, R. H. Thomson, Nina Dobrev
Erotic thriller, 1 hour 36 minutes

This is new territory for acclaimed Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan. Chloe is his first official Hollywood movie. He was brought on to this project by Ivan Reitman’s company Montecito (Ivan Reitman is a producer and his son Jason is an executive producer). It’s his first film not written by him. Instead the screenwriter is Erin Cressida Wilson, who also wrote Secretary. As a result, it’s also his first film that’s told in a straightforward linear fashion.

The result is interesting, and won’t be to everyone’s taste. Or it will be to some tastes, but for other reasons such as the scenes of nudity by Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore, and their steamy scenes together. Certainly both are ravishing beauties, in addition to being fine actors. Seyfried's eyes are so large and hypnotic that they seem like something out of Sailor Moon.

Film Review – Hot Tub Time Machine

Writer: Josh Heald, Sean Anders and John Morris; story by Josh Heald
Director: Steve Pink
Producer: John Cusack, Grace Loh and Matt Moore
Cast: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Crispin Glover, Lizzy Caplan, Chevy Chase
Raunchy comedy, 1 hour 33 minutes

With a title like Hot Tub Time Machine, you’d think this movie couldn’t possibly be any good.

You’d be wrong.

It’s not masterpiece, by any means. But it is far better than it has any right to be, and a whole lot of fun. This was quite an unexpected surprise from the writers of the recent mediocre frat-boy comedy Sex Drive. The high-concept premise is simple enough. Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) head off to a ski resort with Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) to relive the supposed glory days of their youth. Though the resort has crumbled as much as their own lives, a freak accident causes their hot tub to transport them back to 1986.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Film Festival season in Toronto

We in Toronto are very lucky. Not only is the Toronto International Film Festival one of the top two festivals in the world (Roger Ebert went as far as to rank it at the top over Cannes), but we also have some of the top festivals in the world in various other categories. Festival planners generally avoid the cold winter and hot summer months because attendance would suffer, since it's too nasty or too nice to go see movies. So the festivals bunch together in the spring and fall. Since many wish to avoid the long shadow of TIFF, that means a great many of them occur in the spring.

We've had a bunch of film festivals already such as Toronto Romanian Film Festival and the University of Toronto Film Festival. But now they start coming fast and furious starting this weekend with the Female Eye Film Festival and Cinéfranco, and continue into June.  Here are some of the major festivals to look for this spring. Many of these festivals have industry sessions and special events as well as screenings.

8th Annual Female Eye Film Festival 
March 24th - March 28th, 2010
This festival focuses on women's films and started yesterday with a panel discussion some experimental films and live music at the WARC Gallery at 401 Richmond St. W. But it kicks off officially with its opening night film tonight, A Wake by Penelope Buitenhuis.

The Toronto Screenwriting Conference 2010, April 10-11

On the weekend of April 10-11, Toronto will host an exciting new event for screenwriters and creatives in the film and television industry. The Toronto Screenwriting Conference 2010 takes place at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management at 55 Dundas Street W. between Yonge and Bay. It promises to be two full days of learning from some of the brightest names in the biz at the moment.

The list of speakers seems especially strong in the television side. Speakers include Tim Long, an Emmy Award-winning writer on The Simpsons for eleven years, and Rob C. Cooper of Stargate SG-1 and its spin-off Stargate Atlantis. Dr. Linda Seger (pictured below) is one of the best script doctors and screenwriting authors, and has just released a new edition of her classic Making A Good Script Great. Another highly respected script consultant Dara Marks will also be speaking. In addition to talks, there will be Q&A sessions and Master Classes.

The first 50 students to register can get a $70.00 rebate at the conference with valid student photo ID.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hitler Finds Out Sandra Bullock Won't Be at The Blind Side's German Premiere

Further to Sandra Bullock's brush with the Oscar-winning actress curse, New York Magazine has come up with the latest installation of the wildly popular "Hitler finds out" meme. There are currently over 100 versions of this scene, taken from the German film Der Untergang (Downfall) by Oliver Hirschbiegel. This is one of the funnier ones.

In case you haven't been following, Sandra Bullock canceled her appearance at the London and Berlin premieres of The Blind Side following revelations that her husband Jesse James cheated on her with stripper-dominatrix Michelle McGee. By the way, Sandra Bullock is completely fluent in German, having lived in Nuremberg until the age twelve with her opera-singing parents.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

DVD reviews - Men Who Stare at Goats, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Blind Side, Brothers

Today's DVD releases are an interesting batch, but none of them are quite as good as you'd hope. Although Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Blind Side each received two Oscar nominations, they are the least interesting in this group.

Men Who Stare at Goats
This is probably the best of the bunch today. It isn't as wacky as it could have been, but it does feature some engaging performances by the all-star cast of George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey. Also Stephen Lang who played the villianous Col. Miles Quaritch in Avatar, plays a military officer here too. This is an offbeat story that's based on the real-life attempts by the US military forces to develop psychic abilities and a paranormal unit. Extras include commentaries, three featurettes and deleted scenes.

This was a remake of a respected 2004 Danish film Brødre. It had aspirations to being a serious Oscar contender, but doesn't entirely succeed. Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal plays the titular brothers, Sam and Tommy respectively. Sam is the good soldier and Tommy's the lout, but Tommy becomes close to Sam's wife Grace (Natalie Portman) when they get news of Sam's death. Things get increasingly complicated, and the cast give it their all in some strong performances. But the story doesn't completely come together and it leaves many questions unanswered. Extras include commentary and featurettes.

Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival 2010

Roger Ebert has stated that "documentaries are at the cutting edge of independent film right now, and new technologies are making them more immediate and observant than ever.” Now we'll have our chance to see just how right on his observation is.

The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival held a press conference this morning at the Gardiner Ceramic Museum to announce their line up for next month, April 29-May 9. Hot Docs is the largest documentary film festival in North America and also hosts a vital industry component for filmmakers and anyone remotely interested in making docs. It screens a wide range of films from all over the world and many of its selections go on to win major awards, such as the latest Best Documentary Oscar-winner The Cove, which played at Hot Docs in 2009.

This year's festival includes some high-profile films such as Casino Jack and the United States of Money about the disgraced  Republican lobbyist and financial swindler. It's the latest film by Alex Gibney, who was Oscar-nominated for his 2005 doc Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and won for his 2007 film Taxi to the Dark Side. We'll get a chance to see Steven Soderbergh's profile of the late Spalding Gray And Everything Is Going Fine. There are profiles on celebrities such as legendary Canadian rockers Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, and of the comedienne Joan Rivers - A Piece Of Work.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Awards News: The 4th Asian Film Awards

South Korea and China were the big winners at the 4th Asian Film Awards held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center on Monday as part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Bong Joon-ho's thriller Mother won three awards, while most of the remaining awards went to Korean or Chinese films. After winning big prizes last year with Tokyo Sonata, Departures, and Still Walking, Japan was shut out entirely this year.

Other multiple winners were City of Life and Death (also known as Nanjing! Nanjing!), Bodyguards and Assassins, At the End of Daybreak and Face, each winning two awards. The Best Visual Effects award went to South Korean Yi Zeon-hyoung of Thirst. The Toronto International Film Festival's programmer for the Midnight Madness selections, Colin Geddes, felt that the Japanese film Symbol was robbed in this category. He attended the ceremony with TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey.

A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to the legendary Amitabh Bachchan, sometimes known as the "Godfather of Bollywood." He has appeared in over 100 films, and was mentioned as the character who gives young Malik an autograph in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

Chinese director Zhang Yimou received an award for Outstanding Contribution to Asian Cinema. He is the most famous of the "Fifth Generation" of Chinese filmmakers and was acclaimed for his work directing the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. John Woo won the prize for Top-Grossing Film Director for Red Cliff, the highest-grossing film in Chinese history.

This year's jury president was Tony Leung Ka-fai.
Complete list of Asian Film Award winners

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Film Review – Cooking with Stella

Writer: Deepa Mehta and Dilip Mehta
Director: Dilip Mehta
Producer: David Hamilton
Cast: Don McKellar, Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, Shriya Saran, Vansh Bhardwaj, Maury Chaykin
Light satirical comedy, 1 hour 43 minutes

Recently, we’ve seen a number of fine Canadian films successfully made as international co-productions. Many were made with European countries (e.g. Ireland: Fifty Dead Men Walking, Love and Savagery, soon-to-be-released A Shine of Rainbows) but another prominent partner has been India. Deepa Mehta’s Water was a Best Foreign Language Film nominee at the Oscars in 2006, while Richie Mehta (no relation) made the exquisite Amal in 2007. Now Deepa’s brother Dilip Mehta arrives with the delightful comedy Cooking with Stella.

As with Water and Amal, Cooking with Stella was made in India with a lot of Canadian talent. Don McKellar and Lisa Ray play a Canadian couple Michael and Maya who move to New Delhi with their baby Zara because of Maya’s diplomatic posting. Their Indian servant Stella (Seema Biswas) is a fine cook, which delights Michael as he was a chef back in Canada. But Stella is also wily in finding ways to scam the new arrivals and pad her salary. The arrival of a new and honest nanny Tannu (Shriya Saran) threatens her schemes.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Awards News: 2010 German Film Award (Lola) nominees

On Friday March 19, German Film Academy president Iris Berben, chairman Bruno Ganz and Culture Minister Bernd Neumann announced the nominations for the 60th Deutscher Filmpreis (German Film Awards). The award is also known as the Lola in honour of Marlene Dietrich's character in Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel). Leading the pack with 13 nominations was Michael Haneke’s Das weiße Band (The White Ribbon), a stark tale of a German town’s moral disintegration at the outset of World War I. The 13 nominations is a new record, surpassing the 11 nominations of Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others).

Das weiße Band (The White Ribbon) won the Palme d'Or, top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, in 2009. It went on to win the Best Foreign Film Award at the Golden Globes, but lost at the Academy Awards to the little known Argentinian film El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes).

Die Fremde (When We Leave), a debut feature from actress/director Feo Aladag, received six Lola nominations, while Hans-Christian Schmid’s Yugoslav war drama Storm (Sturm) which competed in Berlinale 2009 received five.

Funding from the Ministry of Culture and Media provides 2.855 million Euros ($3.93 million CAD) in prize money to the nominees. 250,000 Euros goes to each of the six Best Picture nominees. The two films in the Children or Youth Film category receive 125,000 Euros each, while the two Documentary nominees receive 100,000 Euros. 10,000 Euros goes to each of the acting nominees. The remaining money will be divided amongst the Lola winners to be announced in Berlin's Friedrichstadt Palast on April 23. The gala will be hosted by Barbara Schoneberg.


Full list of 60th Deutscher Filmpreis nominees:

Friday, March 19, 2010

Giveaway contest: The Runaways and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

For Toronto folks -- to coincide with today's release of The Runaways, director Floria Sigismondi kindly provided an autographed poster of the movie. To win this poster, simply leave your name in the comments section stating you want the poster, and check back for instructions as to how to claim it.

Coincidentally, actress Kristen Stewart who plays Joan Jett in The Runaways is slated to star in the Hollywood remake of the Swedish hit film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This original Swedish version will have its Canadian release Easter weekend, but the Cinema Studies Students Union (CINSSU) of the University of Toronto and Alliance Films are hosting a special preview screening on Monday, March 22 at 7:30pm. To win one of four double-passes to this screening, again just leave your name in the comments section letting me know you want a pass.  Check back early Monday for instructions on how to claim them.

Film Review – The Runaways

Writer/director: Floria Sigismondi, based on a book by Cherie Currie
Producer: John Linson, Art Linson, Bill Pohlad
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Stella Maeve, Scout Taylor-Compton, Alia Shawkat, Riley Keough, Tatum O’Neal
Indie drama, 1 hour 45 minutes

Based on the book "Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story" by Cherie Currie, The Runaways focuses on the rise and eventual dissolution of the groundbreaking all-girl rock band of the same name. Respected film critic Roger Ebert gets some credit for the all-girl band concept, since as he states in his commentary for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (for which he was the screenwriter), the film’s fictional group The Carrie Nations inspired many followers in real life. In a case of life imitating art, the true story of The Runaways is remarkably similar to the one created by Ebert.

The Runaways lasted from 1975-79 after guitarist Joan Jett and drummer Sandy West separately approached music producer Kim Fowley about forming a female rock band. After auditioning for bandmates, they chose Cherie Currie to be their lead singer. The released several albums and achieved a respectable degree of success. But Currie succumbed to her drug problems and left, while the rest of the band had a falling out with Fowley. Jett subsequently went on to even greater success with The Blackhearts.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What's really behind the Oscar-winning actress curse?

As Comrade Bingo's blog and others pointed out, Kate Winslet and now Sandra Bullock are just the latest casualties in long line of Oscar-winning actresses who have won acclaim just in time to see their marriages dissolve. Certainly the list is long: Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Charlize Theron, Helen Hunt, Reese Witherspoon, and many others from further back such as Emma Thompson, Jane Fonda or Jennifer Jones.  All of them split from their husbands shortly after winning an Oscar.

But is this a case of a woman's success being emasculating for a man?

I don't think it is. For one thing, Kate Winslet's spouse Sam Mendes won an Oscar himself for Best Director with his first film American Beauty a decade ago. The others perhaps weren't married to Oscar winners, but many were successful in their own right, such as Kenneth Branagh who is a fine director, writer and actor.

One should also consider that many men who win Oscars see their marriages end. It comes to mind that Alexander Payne split from his wife Sandra Oh not too long after he won an Academy Award for writing Sideways

3D short film of Fall 2010 Nada Collection a world first

In a world first, Toronto designer Nada Shepherd decided to forgo the LG Fashion Week which takes place from March 28 to April 3 and instead presented her fall collection in the form of a seven minute short film in 3D. Collaborating with director Grant Padley and cinematographer Tim Dashwood, she created an action-oriented piece that mimicked a video game. It played at Toronto's Scotiabank Theatre on Richmond St. W. to a packed audience on Wednesday night.

Two models play fembots who battle each other in several sequences that progress like different levels of a video game. One of the models was Toronto actor and stunt-woman Cheryl Quiacos, who acted as fight choreographer for the film.

The film wasn't anything on the level of Avatar, of course. But it was well-made, interesting, and an exciting new way to present a fashion show. It featured martial arts, wire-work, wind machines and various weapons in addition to the variety of outfits. It went by quickly, but then fashion shows themselves are always all-too-brief as well.

I think it was an excellent idea to present her collection this way, and I'm surprised that no one has done it before. I don't see it replacing the traditional catwalk for models and designers. But film and fashion have always been natural partners, especially around the Awards season that just finished. The additional 3D element was icing on the cake. Shepherd said that she envisioned a futuristic video and it was her husband who came up with the idea by asking, "what about 3D?"

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Film Review - Green Zone

Writer: Brian Helgeland, based on a book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Director: Paul Greengrass
Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lloyd Levin, Paul Greengrass
Cast: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Khalid Abdalla, Jason Isaacs, Yigal Naor
Political Action Thriller, 1 hour 55 minutes

Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass have reunited after working on The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum to make Green Zone. It’s a taut, smart, and well-made action movie with Damon playing an upstanding American soldier stationed in Iraq. After the recent awards successes of The Hurt Locker, there may have been some expectation that people were capable of handling Iraq war movies. But perhaps people were forgetting that The Hurt Locker was the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner ever (accounting for inflation).

Nonetheless, The Hurt Locker was very well received by the critics. American critics haven’t been as kind to Green Zone. It only got a 52% rating at I find this fascinating, since Green Zone is equally as good as the Bourne movies (which were both very well-received) if not better. It isn’t any more political than the Bourne movies or The Hurt Locker.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Film Review – Un prophète (A Prophet)

Writer: Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard; after an original screenplay by Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit
Director: Jacques Audiard
Producer: Martine Cassinelli
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Reda Kateb, Hichem Yacoubi, Jean-Philippe Ricci
Prison drama, 2 hours 29 minutes
French, Arabic, Corsican with English subtitles

Stark, gritty prison dramas don’t get any better than this. We may have seen similar stuff on television shows like Oz, but Un prophète (A Prophet) is like a self-contained miniseries set in a French prison with an Arab protagonist, Malik El Djebena, convincingly portrayed by Tahar Rahim. The illiterate 19-year-old Malik arrives in prison for assaulting a policeman and becomes drawn into and then entrenched in a criminal way of life.

The resulting tale has an epic quality to it. It avoids the typical Hollywood three-act structure that often makes films quite predictable. Malik’s journey takes many twists and turns, and unfolds over many years. The title would seem to be a reference to the film’s Islamic content, and an indication that Malik’s journey isn’t a Christian allegory but a Muslim one.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Toronto premiere of Floria Sigismondi's The Runaways

Yesterday evening, E1 Entertainment hosted the Toronto premiere of the Sundance Film Festival hit The Runaways, starring Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning and Michael Shannon. Stewart plays Joan Jett, who later went on to success with her supporting band The Blackhearts. Dakota Fanning plays The Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie, and Michael Shannon has a terrific turn as the group's manager Kim Fowley.

The premiere took place at the Isabel Bader Theatre in the campus of the University of Toronto. E1 Entertainment co-president presented the film's writer and director Floria Sigismondi who then came onstage and gave a brief introduction to the film. The film was warmly received. Also in attendance was her family, including her parents and actress Antonella Sigismondi, who has a role in the film using her stage name, Julia Mondi.

I'll have more to say about the film itself later this week, as well as an interview with Floria Sigismondi.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Film Review – Alice in Wonderland

Writer: Linda Woolverton, based on novels by Lewis Carroll
Director: Tim Burton
Producer: Richard D. Zanuck, Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd
Cast: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Christopher Lee
Surreal children’s fantasy, 1 hour 48 minutes

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is poised to win this weekend’s box office crown again, after breaking records with its $116 million opening last weekend. Its 47% drop-off is less than one might expect and leaves it with an estimated $62 million in earnings domestically. But it won’t have the staying power of Avatar. Its success has largely to do with the fact that children’s entertainment always makes a lot of money (even though Alice in Wonderland isn’t really a children’s film), and that it replaced Avatar in theatres when there was still a lot of excitement about 3D and IMAX.

But Alice in Wonderland has gotten decidedly mixed reviews, and for good reason. It makes a mess of Lewis Carroll’s brilliant books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. It adds silly plotlines in both the “real world” and in Wonderland in an attempt to give the story more cohesion and narrative drive. Even then, it fails because it doesn’t “raise the stakes” as writers like to say. There isn’t enough reason to care what happens next or what choices Alice makes, so it ends up feeling longer than Avatar even though is almost an hour shorter.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

2010 University of Toronto Film Festival

The University of Toronto runs their own film festival , but now in their ninth year they are trying something new. Instead of having it at Innis Town Hall over several nights, they are hosting it today, Saturday March 13 as an all-day event throughout Hart House (7 Hart House Circle). All events are free. One of my recent works The Audience will be playing at the Film Board Gala at 2pm and again at 8:30pm.  The film was made with a grant from Bravo!FACT and stars Patrick McKenna and Sandy Kellerman. There will be a pre-screening catered reception in the East Common Room at 7:00, and post-screening reception and awards at 10:00pm. I hope to see you there.

Other things to looks for include director Babak Payami in person in Hart House Theatre at 1 and 7:30pm to present a double bill of his work. You'll get a chance to see works by the Cinema Students at UofT. The very funny Keith Cole will present some gay short films. There will be installations, some Super8 film projection, music, discussions and much more.

Here is the schedule of today's events. For more detailed information, go to

Friday, March 12, 2010

Film Review – Remember Me

Writer: Will Fetters
Director: Allen Coulter
Producer: Nicholas Osborne and Trevor Engelson
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Emilie de Ravin, Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper and Lena Olin
Romantic melodrama, 1 hour 53 minutes

Robert Pattinson is such a huge phenomenon right now that it really doesn’t matter what the critics think. His movies make a boatload of money. He’s primarily known as the brooding vampire hunk Edward Cullen from the Twilight series of films, and has legions of adoring fans – the “Twi-hards.” So don’t be surprised when Remember Me rakes it in even though the critics likely won’t be kind to it.

It isn’t for a lack of trying on his part. He took an executive producer role on this project and filmed it between working on the second and third installments of Twilight. But the film doesn’t really give him a lot to do other than more brooding. We already know he can do that – it’s pretty much all he does as the vampire. Here Pattinson plays Tyler, a sullen student who meets Ally (Emilie de Ravin) after a dare from his roommate. They both have dark pasts, have mean old dads, and so naturally fall in love.

Film Review – The Ghost Writer

Writer: Roman Polanski and Robert Harris, based on the novel by Robert Harris
Director: Roman Polanski
Producer: Roman Polanski, Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde and Timothy Burrill
Cast: Ewan McGregor; Pierce Brosnan; Olivia Williams; Kim Cattrall); Tom Wilkinson
Political Thriller, 2 hours 8 minutes

We all know about the mess Roman Polanski’s in right now. He’s currently in house arrest awaiting possible extradition to the U.S. for a decades-old case involving unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, which in Californian law is also called statutory rape. It’s sometimes difficult to discuss his situation even-handedly without people overstating their case in either direction. There was a documentary made about him recently Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired by Marina Zenovich which gives useful background information on the whole sordid affair.

In any event, this albatross around his neck makes it difficult for people to like him or his films. We want to like our artists and entertainers, even though logically there is no connection between personality and talent. Say what you want about Tiger Woods, the man can play golf. Lots of talented people are jerks, and lots of nice people have no talent. But we want to believe otherwise, which is why people who worshiped Michael Jackson turned a blind eye to potential indicators of pedophilia, whereas people who were convinced he was a diddler find it hard to listen to him.

But whatever you think of Roman Polanski as a person, there’s no denying his immense talent as a filmmaker. The Ghost Writer is another very strong film from a master.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

DVD review - Up in the Air, Precious

Hot in the heels of the Academy Awards ceremony, two of the Best Picture nominees are now available on DVD. Up in the Air and Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire were not considered realistic possibilities for Best Picture, but each was expected to win an award, Best Supporting Actress for Mo'Nique in Precious, and Best Adapted screenplay for Up in the Air. In one of the night's biggest surprises Precious won the Adapted Screenplay award too, sending Up in the Air home empty-handed.

As you may know, I feel this is a terrible injustice. I've already explained why Mo'nique's performance was not even good, let alone great. Up in the Air was the unfortunate victim of a smear campaign that falsely accused Jason Reitman of stealing a writing credit. If Up in the Air had to lose, I would have preferred to see that category go to the brilliantly funny In The Loop.

But Up in the Air is an essentially perfect movie. Not only is it painfully relevant in our tough economic times, but it treads a fine line with unerring balance. There are so many ways it could have gone wrong. George Clooney's character Ryan Bingham is a man who fires people for a living. He could have come across as heartless, unconcerned or distasteful. The movie gives Bingham a sense of dignity and depth, without making his journey predictable, silly, cheap or falsely uplifting. If it was too serious, it would have been heavy-handed; too funny, it would have been insensitive. Perhaps that worked against it, because some people were expecting an all-out comedy. It's more of a drama with delicate humour and light moments throughout. I can't imagine it being done any better as any changes would upset the fragile balance that Reitman achieves.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Filmmaker opportunities offered by CFC and Just For Laughs

For Canadian filmmakers, there are a number of excellent opportunities coming up in the next short while. The Canadian Film Centre is an esteemed film school in Toronto for advanced filmmakers seeking further training. They are having a contest for short filmmakers to create a work no longer than 3 minutes that will persuade audiences to respect creators’ rights. Deadline is April 26, 2010. The winning film receives $10,000 and 2nd and 3rd place films receive $2,500.  The CFC also has an approaching April 5 deadline for their GO WEST Project Lab, for western-based producers to develop their projects with industry professionals while in Whistler, B.C.

Of particular interest is a partnership they are undertaking with the Just For Laughs Festival that will take place in Montreal during the Just For Laughs Comedy Conference July 15-17, 2010. Returning this year are the "Pitch ‘Til Your Sides Split" pitch programs for TV Series and Multi-Platform Web Series, both with a May 1 application deadline. Newly introduced this year is a Comedy Bootcamp for Film. The deadline for applying is a little later, May 15. Submissions are reviewed as potential applicants to the CFC’s Telefilm Canada Features Comedy Lab, which is a more intensive program that takes place later in Toronto.

Here is the press release with information about the Boot Camp and Pitch Programs in Montreal:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

23rd Annual Images Festival Catalogue Launch Party

The Images Festival is one of the more interesting of the many Film Festivals held each year in Toronto. Strictly speaking, they are not just a film festival but rather a media festival with an emphasis on experimental film, video art, music, performance, new media and installations. They held a press conference and launch party on the evening of Tuesday, March 9 to introduce their catalogue and prepare us for the festival itself which runs April 1-10, 2010. The catalogue is available for free at any Queen Video, Suspect Video, The Film Buff or Soundscapes as well as the festival 25 venues. It can also be downloaded here.

This year’s festival features 145 artists including Bruce LaBruce, Luo Li, Nicolás Pereda, Shary Boyle, Christine Fellows, Daniel Barrow, Tacita Dean and Mary Margaret O’Hara. The opening night will show the feature Port of Memory by Kamal Aljafari which will be preceded by the controversial short film Covered by John Greyson. This will be the North American premiere of Covered after Greyson pulled it from the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009 to protest what he claimed was a connection between TIFF’s spotlight on Tel Aviv and the Israeli government’s “Brand Israel” campaign.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Filmmaker Interview - Sophie Bissonnette

Recently, DOC-Quebec (Documentary Organization of Canada, Quebec Chapter) held a special screening in Montreal to mark the 30th anniversary of Une histoire de femmes (A Wives’ Tale), a remarkable documentary film about the importance of the wives and the women workers during the strike at Inco nickel mine in Sudbury from 1978-79. Shot on 16mm film, the film goes behind the scenes into the meetings by the woman and into their homes. The women, some of whom were quite young and naïve, became instrumental in resolving the strike favourably. It was a watershed moment in Canada for both the labour movement and the women’s movement. Sadly, they're currently embroiled in another bitter strike.

In honour of International Women’s Day, here is an interview I conducted with Sophie Bissonnette, one of the movie's three filmmakers.


How did Une histoire de femmes (A Wives’ Tale) and the filmmaking team of you, Martin Duckworth and Joyce Rock come together?

The Inco strikers went out on strike in September 1978. It was a very important strike, a major strike in Canada. There were 12,000 workers and their families on strike. There was a benefit evening that was given in Ottawa where some of the wives of the miners – these were the miners that were on strike against the multinational corporation Inco – organized in a committee to support the strike. And they went out on speaking engagements and benefit evenings to raise money for the families so that they could survive.

Final thoughts on the The 82nd Annual Academy Awards

- Having two hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin didn't quite work.  Their timing wasn't always on, and it was obvious they were often reading when they should have been looking at each other as they spoke.  Fortunately, the camera kept its distance so it wasn't so distracting as it is on, say, Saturday Night Live.

- The best tandem presenters were Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr. who pretended to exaggerate the importance of writers and actors respectively.  Their exchange culminated in Fey saying, “what do we look for in actors? Memorizing. Not paraphrasing.” Downey replied, “it’s a collaboration. Between handsome gifted people and sickly little mole people.”

- I was very pleased with the wins for The Hurt Locker, which I had predicted last month.  It was also one of my top 10 films of the year.  I was disappointed that my other top 10 pick which was a Best Picture nominee came away empty-handed.  Up in the Air was a favourite to win Best Adapted Screenplay, but was beaten by Precious.  I suspect that the smear campaign against Up in the Air early on did have an affect after all.

The 82nd Annual Academy Awards - The Hurt Locker's big night

Tonight at the Oscars, history was made as Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman in history to win the Best Director Award.  Her film The Hurt Locker won a total of six awards including the Best Picture Award, Bigelow's second Oscar of the night. Some will see its victory as an upset over Avatar, but I predicted its triumph over a month ago. Avatar did win three awards, for cinematography, editing, and visual effects.

I managed to correctly guess 16 of the 24 nominations.  There were a number of surprises on the night.  Precious took the Best Adapted Screenplay Award which most (including myself) had expected to go to Up in the Air.  Perhaps the smear campaign against it discouraged enough voters from selecting it.  The upset winner for Best Foreign Film was the little-known Argentine film The Secret in Their Eyes.

The ceremony itself was not terribly exciting.  Hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were good but not great.  There was an over-emphasis on the actors, with the acting nominees being introduced right at the beginning of the show, and then getting the long introductory praise/roasting from fellow actors before their awards were announced.  They were allowed to give longer, rambling speeches and happily obliged. Other nominees weren't so lucky. There were many who were played off, especially those with co-nominees that had spoken too long at first.


Complete list of winners for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Your voting results and my Oscar predictions

Before I give my predictions, I'll quickly go over the unusual results of our informal Oscar vote.  I had asked you to rank the 10 Best Picture nominees in order of preference, just as the Academy voters themselves were asked to do.  It's obviously a much smaller sample size: I had 8 ballots including my own, compared to the 5,777 members of AMPAS.

Separating the ballots into piles according to the choice number 1, there were three for The Hurt Locker, two each for Avatar and Up in the Air, and one for A Serious Man.  Since A Serious Man got the least votes, it got dropped and we we t to the second choice on that ballot, which was Up in the Air.  Now The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air each had three, while Avatar had the smallest pile with two.  So Avatar gpt eliminated, and we moved to the second choice votes on those ballots.  But one went to The Hurt Locker and the other went to Up in the Air.  Since there were no more smallest piles to eliminate, we technically had a tie between the two. This result pleases me, since those were the only two films from the 10 nominees that made my top 10 list of the past year.  Ties do happen in the Academy Awards, such as when both Katherine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand had the same number of votes in 1968 and each received a Best Actress award.

The winner of the contest is Ike M. Ogosi, so message me and let me know which Oscar-winning DVD you'd like.  Okay, now here are my picks for who will win.

Awards News: 30th Annual Golden Raspberry (Razzie) Awards

On Saturday night, the day before the Oscars, the The Golden Raspberry Award Foundation presented their anti-Oscar awards known as Razzies.  The Worst Picture award went to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which also took Worst Director for Michael Bay's work.  Both "wins" were highly deserved. Sandra Bullock took the Worst Actress prize for her performance in All About Steve and if she wins the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Blind Side as many expect, she will become the first person in history to win a Razzie and Oscar in the same year. She received an additional award for Worst Screen Couple, which she shared with co-star Bradley Cooper.

To her credit, she showed up to accept her awards as she had promised.  She was very good-natured and joked with the voters who had assembled in the Hollywood theatre. "Thank you for ruining my career with a very bad decision," she said. "I think that this is an extraordinary award, and I didn't realize that in Hollywood that all you had to do was say you'll show up and then you'd get it. If I had known that, I would have said I was appearing at the Oscars a long time ago." She went on to give her performance in the movie a very spirited defence.  She had with her a copy of the script and a cartload of hundreds of DVDs of All About Steve.  You can see her acceptance speech online


Complete list of 30th Annual Golden Raspberry (Razzie©) Award "Winners"

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Independent Spirit Awards 2010 -- a sweep for Precious

On Friday night, the film Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire was the big winner at the 25th Film Independent Spirit Awards.  It took five awards, just shy of the record six awards won by Fargo, Sideways and Stand and Deliver. As well as winning the top prize of Best Picture (producers Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness, Gary Magness), it won Best Director (Lee Daniels), Best Lead Female (Gabourey Sidibe), Supporting Female (Mo'Nique) and First Screenplay (Geoffrey Fletcher).

The Indie Spirit Awards are given to films made for no more than $20 million. The major indie film of this past year The Hurt Locker was not eligible because it received acting nominations last year for Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie, prior to its theatrical release.  Lee Daniels acknowledged this upon accepting his directing award, joking "Kathryn Bigelow's not here tonight, I am." The Best Picture award was announced by Ben Stiller as a trio of dancers he said were pornstars gyrated nearby.

The evening was hosted by an irreverent comedian Eddie Izzard.  Roger Ebert was in attendance and received a standing ovation when introduced with the news that the award given to an emerging documentary filmmaker was renamed the Chaz & Roger Ebert Truer Than Fiction Award, after receiving a sponsorship from the Eberts' foundation.


The complete list of 2010 Indie Spirit Award winners:

Friday, March 5, 2010

Film Review – Cactus

Writer-director: Jasmine Yuen Carrucan
Producer: Paul Sullivan
Cast: Travis McMahon, David Lyons, Bryan Brown, Shane Jacobson
Indie thriller, 89 minutes

With Kathryn Bigelow set to become the first woman in history to win Best Director at the Academy Awards, it has been a historical year for women directors. As I mentioned in my review of Fish Tank, there have been many other major releases by women in the last short while, most of them modestly budgeted independent features. Now from down under comes another indie gem written and directed by a woman filmmaker, Jasmine Yuen-Carrucan.

As with Bigelow, Yuen-Carrucan's film Cactus is dominated by males. It is essentially a two-hander starring Travis McMahon and David Lyons involved a road movie across the barren outback of Australia. One of the travelers isn’t exactly happy to make the trip, but the other has reasons for being reluctant too. Over the course of their troubling and tense trip, they bond in an unusual way and must face some difficult obstacles together. The film was shot quickly in 23 days at authentic existing locations in New South Wales: Sydney, Bathurst , Cobar, Wilcanna and Broken Hill. Despite the limited time and resources and the punishing weather, they managed to finish just before torrential rainfall hit.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Inside the world of the Oscars

The following is an updated version of an article I wrote last year.


It’s increasingly common that with the announcement of the Academy Award nominees or winners, people in the public take offence to what they perceive as snubs or self-congratulatory irrelevance. For example, many were upset that popular action movies like Star Wars and Saving Private Ryan lost out to Annie Hall and Shakespeare in Love respectively, and more recently many were angered when Brokeback Mountain lost out to Crash. Last year, people were up in arms about the lack of major nominations for The Dark Knight and The Wrestler, and this year some were upset that Star Trek missed out. To understand why this happens, it’s necessary to take a step back and look at the way the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) works.

Who are the Academy members?
First of all, it’s important to realize that the Academy is a diverse body of 5,777 eligible voters, all of whom are industry professionals. They do not vote as a single block. There is a tremendous amount of subjectivity involved. No two people are going to agree on anything let alone six thousand people. Just look at any two 10 lists of 2009: there’s very little agreement. Yet everyone tends to think that their opinion is somehow objective, believing that saying “I know what I like” and “I know what is good” are always the same thing. That’s not true for industry folks or critics, so it’s certainly not true for the general viewing public. Sadly, the public’s taste can be highly dubious. On many weekends, the box-office champion is usually the one with the worst reviews (e.g. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra; or The Twilight Saga: New Moon).

So who becomes a member of the Academy? It is to some degree a private club. You have to be in the industry, and be sponsored by at least two members of your branch (ie. actors’ branch members sponsor actors, writers sponsor writers, etc). The proposed members must then receive the endorsement of the branch’s executive committee, and then their name is submitted to the Board, which issues the invitation. The invitee is interviewed by a small panel before finally being officially accepted. Members can only belong to one branch of the Academy.

Second Look – Polytechnique

Writer: Jacques Davidts
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Producer: Don Carmody, Maxime Rémillard
Cast: Karine Vanasse, Maxim Gaudette, Sebastien Huberdeau,  Évelyne Brochu, Johanne-Marie Tremblay
Drama, 77 minutes

At a press conference on Monday announcing the nominees for the 2010 Genie Awards, the brilliant film Polytechnique came out on top with a total of eleven nominations including Best Picture and Best Director for Denis Villeneuve. It’s an astounding and deeply moving film, and one that I chose for my top 10 list of 2009. Yet in the following day’s news items, one could see how twenty years later, the Montreal Massacre still inflames the emotions of many. Most of the more appalling things that were posted anonymously on message boards at news sites such as and have since been removed, but some remain such as the following:
Oh yeah - almost forgot - this whole thing has nothing to do with misogynistic Canadians - It has to do with the fact that Marc Lepine's real name was Gamil Gharbi and he was raised by a misogynistic muslim father.
The claim that Marc Lepine was Muslim is an oft repeated lie from hateful misogynists who apparently need to express racism and religious intolerance as well. Lepine was baptized a Catholic and legally changed his name to Marc Lepine when young. His parents separated when he was seven and he hated his father. But even now, some men it seems would conveniently assign his murderous actions to his father’s heritage than to his Catholic upbringing or to misogyny or to gun violence. It appears there are many nasty people out there who secretly agree with the murderer’s anti-feminism and cannot sympathize with his victims.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oscar Race: Email fallout and lawsuit for The Hurt Locker

Just before yesterday’s 5pm P.S.T deadline for the Oscar ballots, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced its punishment for The Hurt Locker producer Nicholas Chartier for sending emails which contravened Academy regulations. Oscar campaigns are banned from both praising their film or from disparaging other nominees, (hence the bland phrase, “For your consideration”) but his email subtly maligned Avatar. In other emails, he had also encouraged people to rank Avatar in the bottom position on the ballot in the mistaken belief that would better help The Hurt Locker’s chances.

The Academy therefore withdrew his allotment of tickets for the Academy Awards ceremony and will also not allow him to attend as another’s guest. This punishment was decided upon by the executive committee of the Producers Branch of AMPAS. If The Hurt Locker does win Best Picture, however, he will receive his statuette at some point in the future. They didn’t take the more severe steps of revoking his nomination, or possibly even removing the film from contention. They have not stated yet whether they might deny Chartier an invitation to the Academy, which is usually extended to Oscar winners, but that seems unlikely.

This seems a fitting punishment, as it isn’t so severe that his work will go unrecognized should he win, but it is severe enough that it will discourage other such behaviour from others in the future. Still, I’ve pointed out others who do far worse, but are much more discreet. But if the Academy were to track down the source of much of the trash-talking about Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker in the media, they’d end up having to ban the Weinsteins from the ceremony on Sunday as well.