For Your Consideration: Feb. 6, 2015

Yesterday, Amy Pascal announced that she will be stepping down as co-chair of Sony Pictures when her contract expires next month. It’s not a particularly surprising announcement – after the notorious November e-mail hack aired her private, often unflattering feelings towards David Fincher, Angelina Jolie and any number of other key collaborators (not to mention jokes about our President that were at best ill-advised and at worst ignorant), Pascal’s time as a studio head was doomed, and Sony’s subsequent back-and-forth bungling of the release of “The Interview” was just icing on the cake. Why neither co-chair Michael Lynton, nor producer Scott Rudin, (the recipient and main participant in Pascal’s most cringeworthy email exchanges) seem to be getting quite the same grilling from the industry, well, I suppose that’s something to investigate another day.

In any case, Pascal is moving on to run her own production company, which might not be a bad thing. Since she started working for Columbia Pictures (now a Sony subsidiary) in 1988, Pascal’s shown an interesting knack for shepherding both successful prestige flicks and blockbuster fare (give or take an Amazing Spider-Man). This week, here’s three films that Pascal helped develop.

– Ethan

“A League of Their Own” (1992)

Cast: Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Megan Cavanagh, Tracy Rainer, Bitty Schram, Ann Cusack, Anne Ramsay, David Strathairn, Bill Pullman, Jon Lovitz, Tea Leoni

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant, Vudu, or iTunes, on disc from Netflix

That rare kind of film that manages to be just as charming and fun as it is enlightening. Penny Marshall’s “A League of Their Own” took a quickly-forgotten slice of American history, the All American-Girls Professional Softball League formed in the middle of WWII, and brought it to breezy, comical – and in the case of Tom Hanks’ Jimmy “There’s No Crying In Baseball” Dugan, iconic – life. Maybe now that she’s got some free time Amy Pascal can reunite with her former lead and get involved in Geena Davis’ female-filmmaker focused festival later this year.

– Ethan

“Casino Royale” (2006)

Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Caterina Murino, Isaach de Bankolé, Tobias Menzies, Jesper Christensen

Available to purchase on Amazon Instant, Vudu and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

James Bond might be the most durable franchise in film history, but 2002’s “Die Another Day” sure did its darnedest to test that theory. As the series has managed to do in years past (“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” on the heels of “You Only Live Twice,” “GoldenEye” following “License to Kill”), the Bond production team – an always-complicated mess of developers at Eon Productions, MGM, the Broccoli family, and lately Sony – turned a complete 180, reinvigorating the franchise with a new actor, a new tone, and a hearty helping of theft from the latest action-movie trends. In this case, the dodgy CGI and horrifically absurd plotting of “Die Another Day” were replaced with the grit and brutal action of Jason Bourne and “Batman Begins” – which, led by the smirking, petulant Daniel Craig, ended up getting closer to the suave-but-troubled killing machine of Ian Fleming’s imagination than any previous attempt. The extended Texas Hold ‘Em tournament reeks of excessive mid-2000s fad-chasing, but otherwise “Casino Royale” is as thoroughly entertaining an action film as you could ask for.

– Ethan

“The Social Network” (2010)

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Joseph Mazzello, Rashida Jones, Josh Pence

Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant, Vudu and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Perhaps Sony should’ve taken a hint about cyber-security from Mark Zuckerberg’s antics in the opening sequence of David Fincher’s still-brilliant, moody and incisive critique of the pursuit of power in the digital age. “Citizen Kane” it’s not, but it also kind of is – certainly not so formally ground-breaking (although Fincher’s regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth is on great form here), “The Social Network” is still just as concerned with the alienating and paradoxical sacrifice of personal relationships in the name of wealth and influence as Orson Welles once was. The tools have changed, but the self-corrupting urges at the heart of our society stay the same. Eisenberg is cast perfectly as Aaron Sorkin’s desperately needy and abrasive take on the Facebook founder, while Andrew Garfield broke out as the in-over-his-head, not-so-innocent Eduardo Saverin; but surprisingly it’s Timberlake who threatens to steal the show as Sean Parker, playboy entrepreneur and modern Mephistopheles.

– Ethan

Trailers of the Week: The Tower

Gone Girl

David Fincher’s last effort, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” felt mostly like the director was running in place – a genre exercise to keep him in shape, and not a whole lot else (Rooney Mara’s scathing performance as Lisbeth Salander was unfortunately balanced out by Daniel Craig sleepwalking his way through the entire film). Gillian Flynn’s thriller “Gone Girl” has a little more going for it, thematically: marital strife in hard economic times, ravenous media, dishonesty. The casting is also intriguing, with Ben Affleck continuing his efforts to reinvent and reinvigorate his place as one of Hollywood’s big-name leading men, and Rosamund Pike finally in a high-profile role worthy of her talent. This trailer is as stylish and intriguing as we’ve come to expect from Fincher projects (remember that phenomenal campaign for “The Social Network?”), but am I the only one getting a little bored of the same old shadowy aesthetic? I want to buy Jeff Cronenweth a nice standing lamp.

A Most Wanted Man

This year’s Sundance festival was generally perceived as a little lackluster (witness, no Sundance selection made it to Cannes’ Un Certain Regard this year, breaking with a sort of unofficial tradition of recent years). But one of the few consensus standouts was Anton Corbijn’s adaptation of John le Carré’s “A Most Wanted Man,” and in particular Philip Seymour Hoffman’s lead performance as weary German intelligence agent Günther Bachmann. It is continually sobering to know this will be one of our last chances to see Hoffman on the big screen, but it’s obvious even from this brief look that he will be as phenomenal as he ever was. He’s a perfect fit for a le Carré lead – dedicated, unglamorous, the definition of a slow burn.

Corbijn also seems a good fit for the material, coming off the heels of “The American,” another contemporary spy thriller that suffered only from a bit of a half-baked narrative. That shouldn’t be a problem here with le Carré at hand, and Corbijn’s controlled, precise style is an appropriate way to visualize a world where one false step has dire consequences. This one’s high on my most anticipated titles of the year.

Maps to the Stars

I just…I’m not even sure…what?

The Homesman

As with the above David Cronenberg nut-fest, Tommy Lee Jones’ “The Homesman” will premiere on the Croisette in May. And I’m not the most objective source here, considering my irrational fondness for all things frontier, but I love everything about this trailer. I love the concept. I love Tommy Lee Jones in this role, and even Hilary Swank, who’s been far too fond of baity prestige pieces of late, seems suited to her part. I love the ensemble, with interesting character actors like Tim Blake Nelson, John Lithgow, David Dencik, Jesse Plemons, and let’s not forget Meryl, filling out the cast. I love “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” I love Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff,” which has a lot of this particular flavor of homestead isolation. I’m all in.

The Rover

And of course, the only thing better than an American frontier Western is a post-apocalyptic future Australian Outback Western! I’m not entirely sure what accent Robert Pattinson thinks he’s doing, but Guy Pearce was terrific in “The Proposition” and he seems to be tapping into that same vein of TERRIFYING here. I’ve never seen David Michod’s “Animal Kingdom,” which was a surprise critical hit back in 2010, earning Jacki Weaver her first Oscar nomination and putting Joel Edgerton on the map. It’s certainly on my priority list to catch up with before “The Rover” debuts out of competition at a midnight screening at Cannes next month.

Most Anticipated Films of 2010

I promised last time that my posts wouldn’t always be so long. Well, they’re still going to be that long for the moment, because I’m bored as what and compiling lists and such seems as good a use of my time as any. Today I’ve been cruising around IMDB and various blogs and such to find out exactly what new films we can look forward to for the rest of the year. There’s sure as hell nothing to look forward to for the next few weeks, as Hollywood continues to stuff the theaters with sequels, gross-out Judd Apatow comedies and poorly conceived adaptations of video games and SNL sketches (a few notes to any big film executives who might happen to read this: 1) no matter how many TV ads you ram down my throat, I am still not buying Jake Gyllenhaal as a Persian, and 2) MacGruber??? Seriously??? You’re going to make an hour-and-a-half film based on a series of wildly unfunny 30-second sketches mocking an ’80s cult show that no one remembers? Yeah, that one’s going to be a HUGE hit).

So! Let us instead dream of the glorious days of autumn and winter, when (Christopher Nolan excepted, of course) the true talent of the film world is finally allowed to poke its under-appreciated little head above ground like Punxsutawney Phil’s little brother Percy. I present to you my Top 25 most anticipated films of the rest of 2010, ranked because alphabetical order is just too damn neat. Davai!

25. Centurion

dir. Neil Marshall, starring Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko

Gladiator-esque action, Michael Fassbender kicking ass and chewing scenery and one of the hottest women in the world as bloodthirsty barbarian queen? Long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously, I’m in.

24. Faust

dir. Aleksandr Sokurov, starring Hanna Schygulla, Maxim Mehmet and Antoine Monot Jr.

Sokurov is best known for his 2002 film Russian Ark, a technical marvel in which the director managed not only to film a 90-minute semi-narrative tour of the famed Hermitage art museum in a single take, but also broke the world record for most obscure Russian history references in a 90-minute period. However, the director also has a very intriguing series of films concerning the corrupting influence of power on man, including biopics of Hitler (“Moloch,” 1999), Lenin (“Taurus,” 2000) and Hirohito (“The Sun,” 2004). Sokurov next tackles the legendary German folk tale, a subject I have grown particularly fond of since composing a presentation on F.W. Murnau’s 1926 version. God only knows if this film will actually be distributed this year, but I’ll be keeping an eye out.

23. Biutiful

dir. Alejandro Iñárritu, starring Javier Bardem

No official trailer yet, just this teaser. Biutiful has gotten an extremely mixed response after debuting last week at the international festival in Cannes, and all I have on the plot is this blurb: “This is about a man embroiled in shady dealings who is confronted by a childhood friend, now a policeman.” I’m not the biggest fan of Iñárritu’s brand of human drama and despair, but Bardem is likely to snag the best actor award at Cannes, and this film figures to be a hot topic of discussion.

22. Somewhere

dir. Sofia Coppola, starring Michelle Monaghan, Benicio del Toro, Elle Fanning, Stephen Dorff

Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a bad-boy A-List actor stumbling through a life of excess while living at Hollywood’s legendary Chateau Marmont Hotel. His days are a haze of drinks, girls, fast cars and fawning fans. Cocooned in this celebrity-induced artificial world, Johnny has lost all sense of his true self. Until, that is, his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) unexpectedly shows up and unwittingly begins to anchor him. – sounds decent enough, coming from one of the more intriguing writer/directors in Hollywood today. I didn’t hate Marie Antoinette nearly as much as some critics did, but I would still appreciate a return to Lost in Translation form.

21. Harry Brown

dir. Daniel Barber, starring Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, David Bradley, Sean Harris

Believe it or not, Michael Caine used to be an action hero, a sort of poor man’s James Bond. Always nice when Hollywood lets old people kick some ass.

20. Certified Copy

dir. Abbas Kiarostami, starring Juliette Binoche, William Shimell

Now there’s the definition of a teaser. Anyway, this is the first film made outside of his homeland for Kiarostami, a highly respected Iranian filmmaker. It’s about an English author and French gallery owner who meet in Italy; they fall into a flirtatious role-playing game, but it soon becomes difficult to separate make-believe and reality. Having seen several of Kiarostami’s earlier films, I assure you that won’t be nearly as dramatic as it sounds, but sure to be quietly pleasant at the least.

19. The Social Network

dir. David Fincher, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Rashida Jones, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield

Penned by the sharp-witted creator of The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin, this could be a nice, fast-paced, funny take on the founding of Facebook. Though I don’t even want to think about how many ads and polls I’m going to have to look at to try to get to my profile when it gets close to the release date.

18. Love Ranch

dir. Taylor Hackford, starring Helen Mirren, Joe Pesci, Sergio Peris-Mencheta

Woooooo sexy sexagenarians! And, you know, younger hot girls too.

17. Never Let Me Go

dir. Mark Romanek, starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightlet, Andrew Garfield, Sally Hawkins

Based on a famous novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, the story revolves around three teenagers who grow up in an idyllic English boarding school, but as they grow into young adults discover a haunting reality. The thoughtful sci-fi premise is promising for the long-awaited second feature by Romanek, director of the incredibly creepy One Hour Photo.

16. Miral

dir. Julian Schnabel, starring Willem Dafoe, Freida Pinto, Alexander Siddig, Hiam Abbass

The true-life story of a Palestinian woman who created an orphanage in Jerusalem immediately following the creation of Israel in 1948. I’m very excited to see Schnabel’s follow-up to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; he has a knack for making a biography without the typical sentimentality that goes along with most of them.

15. Black Swan

dir. Darren Aronofsky, starring Natalie Portman, Winona Ryder, Vincent Cassel, Sebastian Stan, Mila Kunis

A thriller revolving around New York City ballerinas. *shrug* OK, sure. One thing to keep an eye on: Aronofsky has a knack for helping actors in a rut revive their careers (see Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler); can he do the same for Winona Ryder?

14. The Kids Are All Right

dir. Lisa Cholodenko, starring Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson

I’ve read that this film is a little deeper than the comedy-oriented trailer lets on, but does a great job of striking a balance between the family drama and lighter elements. Sounds good to me, especially with that cast.

13. The Rum Diary

dir. Bruce Robinson, starring Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Amber Heard, Aaron Eckhart, Amaury Nolasco, Richard Jenkins

I’ve been on a Transmetropolitan binge recently (if you have any interest in graphic novels, by the way, go pick up that series right now), so a movie based on one of hard-living journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s books is of particular interest for me. This project has been in the works for a loong time, but the combination of cult director Robinson (Withnail & I) and Depp is quite promising. I like how Depp’s style fits with Thompson’s work – it lets Depp bring out the crazy, entertaining side, but also requires him to bring his serious face.

12. Get Low

dir. Aaron Schneider, starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black

Duvall was getting major buzz for an Oscar last fall, but then the film got delayed. Still, looks promising, if the campaign can get started back up.

11. Exit Through the Gift Shop

dir. Banksy

Documentary, or world-class prank? No one’s sure. Banksy is the most famous street artist in the world, though he has always maintained his anonymity and general sense or irreverence toward society. So is this tale of Thierry Guetta, a ridiculous, possibly completely untalented disciple of Banksy who hit the big time true? Or is the whole thing a hoax, a comment on the superficial world of modern art? Either way, the definitely real footage of several famous street artists setting up their (illegal) works is supposed to be fascinating. Also, my early vote for best title of the year.

10. The Grand Master

dir. Wong Kar-Wai, starring Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Chen Chang

This is a biography of Ip Man, the man who taught martial arts to Bruce Lee. That’s really all the information we have; this might not even come out in 2010, to tell the truth. But Wong Kar-Wai is one of the most unique directors in the world (see Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love, vastly different in style but equally brilliant), and any new project, especially when teamed with frequent collaborator Tony Leung, should be highly anticipated.

9. Blue Valentine

dir. Derek Cianfrance, starring Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams

This marriage drama is getting raves out of Cannes. Williams and Gosling filmed the first part of this film years ago, then returned to the project last year to finish up, so that the characters’ aging would be realistic. I always like to see dedication like that to a project. I’m a big fan of both lead actors, so this collaboration is quite welcome.

8. The Way Back

dir. Peter Weir, starring Colin Farrell, Mark Strong, Saoirse Ronan, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, lots of Russians

Based on the true story of several prisoners escaping from a Siberian gulag in 1940. The group crossed the Siberian arctic, the Gobi desert and the Himalayas before settling in India. Sounds like quite the tale and should be a visual feast, although I’m nervous about some of these actors playing Russians.

7. The Tempest

dir. Julie Taymor, starring Helen Mirren, Chris Cooper, Alfred Molina, Alan Cumming, Djimon Hounsou, Russell Brand, David Strathairn, Ben Whishaw, Felicity Jones

Julie Taymor’s last excursion into Shakespeare produced her fascinating combination of ancient Rome, fascist Italy and the future in 1999’s Titus. She’s already directed two different stage versions of The Tempest, so you know she’s comfortable enough with the material to do some similarly radical experimentation; like, say, switching the gender of the play’s lead character. Will turning Prospero into Prospera end up being a successful move? Who knows, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Helen Mirren. Plus, did you see that supporting cast???

6. True Grit

dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, starring Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper

Boy, the Coen brothers are just cranking ’em out these days. Hopefully we’re headed for another No Country for Old Men rather than Burn After Reading, but that seems like a pretty safe bet, considering it’s a Western and all. Remakes always make me queasy, but I can imagine that a Coen remake will be…different….enough from the original to make the material their own (see: their “adaptation” of The Odyssey, O Brother, Where Art Thou?). John Wayne won his only Oscar playing Rooster Coburn in the original; fresh off his own first win, how will Jeff Bridges fare taking over the role?

5. The Tree of Life

dir. Terrence Malick, starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Fiona Shaw, Joanna Going, Jessica Chastain

This still-enigmatic film follows the journey of a young man growing up in the 1950’s Midwest into disillusioned adulthood. There’s weird rumors of this really being two films, of it being released in IMAX…but what else could you expect from a man who has only made 4 other films in his entire 38-year career? Malick made two masterpieces in the 70’s (Days of Heaven, Badlands) and then literally disappeared for 20 years before returning to make another masterpiece (The Thin Red Line) and one beautiful but ehhh film (The New World). Every Malick film is a cinematic event, but where on the spectrum will this mysterious, meditative project land?

4. The Illusionist

dir. Sylvain Chomet

Chomet’s follow-up to The Triplets of Belleville follows an aging magician, quickly losing trying to make a living despite losing his audience to rock and roll and other new forms of entertainment. The animator’s gorgeous visual style would be enough to rocket this near the top of my list, but to it off, Chomet took the story from a never-filmed script by legendary French comic actor/director Jacques Tati (Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Mon Oncle, Playtime). A new Tati film almost 30 years after his death? Incredible.

3. Another Year

dir. Mike Leigh, starring Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Imelda Staunton

Blue Valentine and Certified Copy got favorable reviews at Cannes, but Another Year has far and away been the critical darling of the festival, drawing raves from viewers from all over the world. Leigh has produced some heartfelt, memorable ensemble dramas in the past, but it’s looking like Another Year could be his masterpiece. It takes a single year in the life of an older married couple, and just observes them as they play host to a variety of regular faces each season, magnifying their existential struggles. Even the most level-headed awards prognosticators are already guaranteeing the film Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Manville) nominations.

2. Machete

dir. Robert Rodriguez, starring Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Robert de Niro, Lindsay Lohan, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson, Jeff Fahey

The trailer’s in my first post. I’m not ashamed to say it: I’m excited.

1. Inception

dir. Christopher Nolan, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Lukas Haas

I am not posting a trailer for this film. I am not posting any plot summary for this film, because I do not know what it’s about. I do not endorse going to any other site to find information about this film. Christopher Nolan has proven over his career that the less you know about his films going into them, the better. I’ve seen enough to be intrigued. Now I’m just going to sit back and let my mind be blown.

Yay for enormous, day-consuming blog posts!