Monthly Archives: January 2009

15th Annual Slamdance Film Festival

As you know, I am a total film festival geek, so when I heard back in December that a movie I co-wrote and associate produced was going to be screened at a fancy “name” film festival like Slamdance, well…I was kinda blown away.

Slamdance #1

Slamdance #11

And after spending five plus days in Park City, Utah enjoying both Slamdance and her larger sister festival, Sundance, I can tell you without a doubt that we were in the right place. I mean, sure, Sundance has a higher profile and a rich history of launching the careers of some pretty talented filmmakers, but twenty-five years in, Sundance is just too big for its own good.

I mean, their box office looked like Disneyland or something, big, impersonal and totally corporate. The movies were still great, but for the most part, they featured big stars in low-budget commercial movies that mostly already had distribution of some sort. I swear to God, for most of those movies, screening at Sundance is more like a marketing tool, a cool logo they could splash on their posters and DVD’s to move some product.

Sundance #2

Sundance #2

That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but that is not what Sundance used to be. Luckily for us, there’s Slamdance! Started fifteen years ago just up the hill from the fancy, movie-star-packed venues of Sundance, Slamdance set out to be the anti-Sundance in every sense of the word. Ironically, what it has become in the past few years is what Sundance used to be…a truly independent film festival.

For instance, Slamdance only features films by first time filmmakers with a budget of below $1million. Since our budget on “Not Forgotten” was considerably higher, we were not allowed to screen in competition but rather as one of several “Special Screenings” playing throughout the festival.

But the biggest difference between the two festivals is the people. Sundance, as I said above, is big and staffed with scads of chic, Hollywood phonies. Sorry, but it is. Unless you were a big star (or Paris Hilton, who got the freaking mega-star treatment!) the people at Sundance treated you like shit.

Slamdance #4

Slamdance #5

Slamdance #6

Except, of course, for the super cool folks at the Queer Lounge, who rocked! Run by GLAAD, the Queer Lounge was one of the only all-admittance hangouts on Main Street, and man, was that place cool. Fake grass on the ground, giant fake mango trees overhead and all the free flavored Absolut vodka you could drink…whew…we loved that place. Thanks, GLAAD!

But, trust me, the Queer Lounge was the exception to the rule at Sundance. The rest of the Sundance lounges and clubs were impossible to get into and the people at the door, yikes…crazy mean!

Slamdance, on the other hand, was staffed with the coolest, funkiest folks you’ve ever shared a Jagermeister/Pom shot with. Seriously, these guys ruled! Totally down-to-earth, friendly as all hell, and completely devoid of any shred of pretension, these are the folks you wanna celebrate indie film with, baby!

Slamdance #7

Slamdance #8

Slamdance #9

They remembered our names, hyped our movie to anyone within earshot, and treated our entire “Not Forgotten” crew like rock star royalty the entire time we were there. Hell, a bunch of them even sat in on my Screenwriting Fireside Chat just to support me and the other writers on the panel! How cool is that?!

So, for all those reasons and more — did I mention the Filmmaker’s Lounge with free-flowing booze from 5-7PM each night? Awesome! — Slamdance totally lived up to every childhood notion of what I thought a film festival should be. Hanging out with cool writers, composers, directors, actors, hell, even just the bad ass film geeks in the audience…there was a genuine sense of community there that I haven’t experienced since film school.

And seriously…what else could you ask for in a film festival? It was amazing, and my post-Slamdance super cold aside, I had a freaking blast. So, muchas gracias, Slamdance. Hope to see y’all again real soon!

Slamdance #2

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President Obama on the radio…

Since I was out of town last week and have been sick every since I got home, I didn’t have the pleasure of watching President Barack Obama — Wow! Still so cool to type those words! — take the oath of office in our nation’s capitol until last night. Yep, last night. Thank God for Tivo!

But just because I didn’t see the inauguration does not mean I didn’t hear it. My Slamdance roomie, Tyler, and I happened to be in his car en route from Coalville to Park City, Utah when the inauguration began. So, as we made our way through the snowy, sun-dappled mountains of Utah we got to hear Dianne Feinstein start things off with a bang…then lost reception completely.

Obama on the radio #1

Obama on the radio #2

The radio kicked back on in time for us to hear a bit of Aretha singing (did not get to see her crazy hat till later!) and most of the amazingly-moving “Air and Simple Gifts” composition. OMG…when those Copeland refrains started up…wow, not a dry eye in the Toyota, man. Powerful shit!

Then, magically, the reception on our radio cleared and remained clear for the entire time as Barack Obama took the oath of office and gave his rousing, heartfelt address to the country. I tell you what, amigos, I might not have seen that speech till last night, but I have been feeling it in my bones every day since Obama gave it. That thing was downright electrifying!

And though I videotaped the view from the car during the entire duration of Obama’s speech — it’s not very exciting footage and made me kinda sick in a couple really wobbly parts, so I’ll spare you the pain of posting it here — the few pictures I took of the radio on our drive were flooded with glorious sunlight. I know it sounds crazy, but if that’s not a sign of brighter things to come, I don’t know what is…

Que viva Presidente Obama!

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Oscar Nominees 2009

Came home from Slamdance with a wicked cold, so, forgive me ahead of time if I don’t over-analyze this year’s Oscar nominees. It’s not that I’m not excited about them — because there are some really cool movies in the running this year –but having slept on the couch last night to avoid getting Christine sick, I am definitely not at my finest.

That said, if I had to describe this year’s crop of nominees in two words, I would call 2009 the year of the working actor. And with longtime journeyman actors like Frank Langella (“Frost/Nixon”), Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”), Melissa Leo (“Frozen River”), Tarija P. Henson (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), Viola Davis (“Doubt”) and even Josh Brolin (“Milk”) for that matter, all scoring first-time nominations, the acting categories have never been stronger.

Oscar nominees #1

Oscar nominee #2

Sure, some big stars snuck in there as well — Sean Penn for “Milk”, Meryl Streep for “Doubt”, Robert Downey Jr. for “Tropic Thunder” and the Oscar “it” couple du jour, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt scoring nods for their work in “Changeling” and “Benjamin Button” respectively. But the big story today is all about the old-school character actors.

And how refreshing is that? I mean, shit, Richard Jenkins has wracked up a whopping 82 onscreen credits since 1974, Leo has 78, Langella has 77, and Josh Brolin has been in 42 movies since his memorable debut in “The Goonies”. So, congrats to the “old-timers” of all ages…you guys have served your time and are totally due for some major gold!

Also surprised to see Kate Winslet nominated in the Best Actress category for her searing performance in “The Reader”. Till now, her “Reader” role has been relegated to the Best Supporting Actress category, with her role in “Revolutionary Road” taking the higher honor. I have always thought she was much better in “The Reader”, so, glad to see her pick up a nod for that performance instead.

Oscar nominee #4

Oscar nominees #3

Oh, and speaking of “Revolutionary Road” — which fared far worse in the nomination count than I think anyone expected — the biggest surprise for me was the Best Supporting Actor nomination for Michael Shannon. Playing the deeply-troubled grown son of Kathy Bates, Shannon ignites every scene he’s in. Seriously, “Road” would have been a hell of a lot more boring without him. Very, very happy to see him pick up his first Oscar nomination today. Yay!

And though I agree with most of the Adapted Screenplay nominations, I gotta tell ya, the Original Screenplay category is kind of crazy this year. I’m not saying any of these movies are bad, but, wow, even the most experienced Oscar prognosticator couldn’t have guessed that this bunch of scripts would pick up nods. I mean, we’ve only seen one of the nominated films in this category…and we see everything! Ha!

On the directing front, happy to see Danny Boyle pick up his first directing nomination for “Slumdog Millionaire” and even though I hated “Benjamin Button” — and hate even more the fact that it scored 13 nominations…yikes! — I do love me some David Fincher, so, kudos to him for finally making the cut!

Oscar nominees #5

Oscar nominees #6

Also kind of shocked that the Academy bucked the award-season trend by not awarding “The Dark Knight” a nod for Best Picture — giving the “wild card” fifth slot to “The Reader” instead. I guess Christopher Nolan and company will have to settle for their raft of technical nominations to go with the expected posthumous Supporting Actor nomination for Heath Ledger.

And while I was sad to see “Rachel Getting Married” and “The Wrestler” fail to pick up nominations in the Original Screenplay and Best Original Song categories, I was very happy to see the actors from both films pick up some very deserving nominations. So, yay!

Below is a list of most of the nominees in most of the major categories, to see the full list of nominated films, click here. And, as always, love to hear what you guys think of this year’s nominees…so, comment away!

BEST PICTURE

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

“Frost/Nixon”

“Milk”

“The Reader”

“Slumdog Millionaire”

BEST DIRECTOR

David Fincher – “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Ron Howard – “Frost/Nixon”

Gus Van Sant – “Milk”

Stephen Daldry – “The Reader”

Danny Boyle – “Slumdog Millionaire”

BEST ACTOR

Richard Jenkins – “The Visitor”

Frank Langella – “Frost/Nixon”

Sean Penn – “Milk”

Brad Pitt – “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Mickey Rourke – “The Wrestler”

BEST ACTRESS

Anne Hathaway – “Rachel Getting Married”

Angelina Jolie – “Changeling”

Melissa Leo – “Frozen River”

Meryl Streep – “Doubt”

Kate Winslet – “The Reader”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Josh Brolin – “Milk”

Robert Downey Jr. – “Tropic Thunder”

Philip Seymour Hoffman – “Doubt”

Heath Ledger – “The Dark Knight”

Michael Shannon – “Revolutionary Road”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams – “Doubt”

Penélope Cruz – “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

Viola Davis – “Doubt”

Taraji P. Henson – “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Marisa Tomei – “The Wrestler”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Courtney Hunt – “Frozen River”

Mike Leigh – “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Martin McDonagh – “In Bruges”

Dustin Lance Black – “Milk”

Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete Docter – “WALL-E”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Eric Roth and Robin Swicord – “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

John Patrick Shanley – “Doubt”

Peter Morgan – “Frost/Nixon”

David Hare – “The Reader”

Simon Beaufoy – “Slumdog Millionaire”

BEST ANIMATED FILM

“Bolt”

“Kung Fu Panda”

“WALL-E”

BEST FOREIGN FILM

“The Baader Meinhof Complex” – Germany

“The Class” – France

“Departures” – Japan

“Revanche” – Austria

“Waltz with Bashir” – Israel

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” – Alexandre Desplat

“Defiance” – James Newton Howard

“Milk” – Danny Elfman

“Slumdog Millionaire” – A.R. Rahman

“WALL-E” – Thomas Newman

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“Down to Earth” – “WALL-E”

“Jai Ho” – “Slumdog Millionaire”

“O Saya” – “Slumdog Millionaire”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

“Changeling” – Tom Stern

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” – Claudio Miranda

“The Dark Knight” – Wally Pfister

“The Reader” – Chris Menges and Roger Deakins

“Slumdog Millionaire” – Anthony Dod Mantle

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

“Australia” – Catherine Martin

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” – Jacqueline West

“The Duchess” – Michael O’Connor

“Milk” – Danny Glicker

“Revolutionary Road” – Albert Wolsky

BEST ART DIRECTION

“Changeling”

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

“The Dark Knight”

“The Duchess”

“Revolutionary Road”

BEST MAKE-UP

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

“The Dark Knight”

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army”

BEST EDITING

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

“The Dark Knight”

“Frost/Nixon”

“Milk”

“Slumdog Millionaire”

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”

“Encounters at the End of the World”

“The Garden”

“Man on Wire”

“Trouble the Water”

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Ricardo Montalban (1920-2009)

For those of you who haven’t heard yet, Ricardo Montalban, the coolest Mexican cat to ever don a white suit in the tropics, passed away today in Los Angeles at the ripe old age of 88.

Ricardo Montalban on "Fantasy Island"

And while he was a pioneering champion of Latino’s everywhere…onstage, onscreen and even behind-the-scenes…Ricardo Montalban was also one hell of an actor. With over one-hundred-and-fifty screen credits to his name, that dude worked non-stop. But there are two roles that, for me at least, made Montalban a straight-up bad-ass.

The first was Montalban’s iconic Mr. Roarke on “Fantasy Island”. I remember the pilot episode of that show scaring the shit out of me…I don’t know why, but there was something really f-ing creepy to me about that island. And if I remember correctly, Mr. Roarke was much more dark and menacing in the early seasons than he was later on. Seriously scary shit…

Childhood nightmares aside, however, the role that will forever endear Ricardo Montlban to me is his big, rip-roaring performance as the maniacal Kahn in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn”. My Dad was a huge fan of those movies and we watched them many times (except for the sucky first one…yikes) but our favorite to this day is “Kahn”.

Ricardo Montalban as Kahn #2!

Ricardo Montalban as Kahn!

I know it’s lavish praise, but in my mind, Montalban’s villainous turn as Kahn Noonien Singh ranks up there with Darth Vader, Rutger Hauer from “Blade Runner” and maybe the Alien from the “Alien” movies as one of the best sci-fi villains of all time. Seriously, this dude kicked Kirk and company’s ass in that movie! And he was Mexican to boot! Way to go, hombe…way to go!

So, for Kahn, Roarke, and every other suave-ass thing you did in a lifetime of sauve…RIP, amigo. You will be missed…

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Slamdance or bust!

Hola, amigos! Just wanted to remind you guys that my movie “Not Forgotten” will be having its world premiere this Saturday night at the 15th Annual Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Hooray!

I’ll be staying at the posh Best Western in Coalville, which I hear is where all the big Hollywood stars bunk up. Not! But hey, hotels in Park City proper are expensive, yo! But seriously, if you’re thinking of coming out for the festival, the floor in my room in swinging Coalville is all yours, baby!

Slamdance!

Sadly, Christine will not be coming with me this time as she is what we call “very pregnant” and for some reason, the idea of riding on a plane to Utah and then trying not to slip and fall on snowy Main Street is not exactly appealing to her at the moment. Weird, huh?

Actually, I don’t blame her, I can’t tell you how many times I slipped and fell in snowy Santa Fe last year…yikes! Guess I’m more of a warm weather walker…or maybe I just shouldn’t wear my flip-flops in the snow…hmmm.

Anyway, if any of you are seriously considering making the trek to Park City for Slamdance (or Sundance for that matter!) you can purchase tickets to either the Saturday or Monday screening here. Also, there will be a filmmaker Q&A after both screenings, so if you’ve ever wanted to heckle me…now’s your chance.

And if you really wanna throw tomatoes my way, make sure and swing by the WGA-sponsored Screenwriter Fireside Chat on Tuesday the 20th at noon. Since most of America will be watching our first African-American President take the oath of office around that time I think the crowd at the Fireside Chat will be a little lean…so, you’ll be able to throw shit at me pretty easily. Yay!

Hope to see you there!

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Two-fisted Kate Winslet!

Not only is she the youngest female performer to have wracked up five Oscar nominations at her age — with a likely two more on the way next week! — but Kate Winslet made history again last night by becoming only the third performer in the history of the Golden Globes to win two awards in one night. Insanity!

two-fisted Kate Winslet!

If I had to chose between her performances in “The Reader” and “Revolutionary Road”, I’d probably go with “The Reader”, but she was, as always, amazing in both films. I am actually hard pressed to think of a movie that Kate Winslet was not amazing in…oh, wait, I thought of one: “The Holiday”. Yikes…that movie sucked ass. Seriously toxic stuff…

But hey, one bad movie in a career of great one’s is pretty damn good. So, congrats to Kate Winslet on her two-fisted triumph at the Globes. I’m sure the two Laura’s (Linney and Dern) were relieved that Winslet didn’t act in any TV movies or miniseries this past year, or she might’ve swept those categories too!

Oh, and could she have looked any hotter last night? Wow, what a beauty…

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“The Wrestler”

Just watched Mickey Rourke and Bruce Springsteen pick up their well-deserved Golden Globes for “The Wrestler” and all I can say is…wow. These guys totally deserve any gold that comes their way this season, and if you haven’t seen “The Wrestler” yet, then get thee to a multiplex, amigos. This movie rocks!

Beautifully directed by Darren Aronofsky from a sweet, heartfelt script by Robert Siegel this movie truly soars. And while “Slumdog”, “Milk” and “Frost/Nixon” are still my top three, “The Wrestler” has made it a four-way race for our favorite movie of the year.

THE WRESTLER #1

This movie has more heart, humor and soul in it’s first ten minutes than “Benjamin Button” does in it’s entirety. Sorry, Benjamin, but it’s true. If you’re looking for a deeply-felt story about genuine love, loss and redemption, skip the bloated Brad Pitt-fest and see this instead!

Playing a battered and bruised pro-wrestler well past his prime, Mickey Rourke gives the performance of his life as Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Several critics have pointed out how Rourke’s real-life struggles and appearance give the movie an added heft, and that may be true, but I think that totally sells Rourke short.

I mean, sure, he looks like hell, but Rourke is not playing himself here, this is acting. And acting of the caliber I haven’t seen onscreen since, well, shit…I can’t even remember it’s been so long. Seriously, Rourke is so vital and alive in this movie that you’ll swear you’re watching a documentary.

THE WRESTLER #2

THE WRESTLER #3

And the story…wow…I won’t ruin it for those of you who haven’t seen it, but this movie takes off in directions I never saw coming and never looks back. And lest you think “The Wrestler” is all about Rourke, the supporting women in this film kick some serious ass!

Marissa Tomei has never looked hotter — literally, she has some full-blown stripping scenes that are beyond realistic! — and her performance as a damaged stripper is so naturalistic that you’ll swear she’s been pole dancing her entire life. I know a lot of people still give her shit for winning the Oscar for “My Cousin Vinny”, but if there were any doubts about Tomei being a real actress, this movie will put them to rest forever.

Beneath all the sweat and the shimmery body paint, Tomei’s character not only gives Rourke something truly powerful to play off, but also steals your heart in every scene she’s in. Seriously, she’s incredible.

THE WRESTLER #4

THE WRESTLER #5

And Evan Rachel Wood — who we adored on the vastly underrated “Once and Again” — delivers her most mature, nuanced performance to date as Rourke’s estranged daughter. Her scenes with Rourke will rip your heart out. Man alive, I was weeping like a baby a couple of times…beautiful stuff!

And when that Bruce Springsteen song kicks in at the end, holy crap, you just wanna die. This ain’t no tacked-on end credits song, this is a sad-ass rock ballad for the ages…and like the movie itself, it will stay with you for days. Amazing…

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