Not that long after Warner Bros said welcome to the jungle, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has jumped off The Jungle Book. This is Warner Bros‘ new version of the Rudyard Kipling novel about an orphaned boy raised in …
BREAKING: Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican director whose films are about as serious and sad as anything I’ve seen from a world-class filmmaker, is about to lighten the tone and make us laugh with his next feature. Gonzalez Inarritu will next direct Birdman, a comedy he co-wrote with Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo.
Gonzalez Inarritu followed the tragedy-filled Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel by making possibly the most heartbreaking film I’ve ever seen in Biutiful, his last film. Here, he’ll tell the story of an actor in crisis, who once played an iconic superhero, as he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself in the days leading up to the opening of a Broadway play. Birdman will be captured in a single location over the span of three days. Production is currently slated to begin in March 2013. Iñárritu will produce with Robert Graf and his former agent-turned-producer John Lesher. CAA reps Iñárritu and will rep the film.
At the last Academy Awards, Barbra Streisand ripped open the envelope and revealed that Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman ever to win Best Director. No such groundbreaking moment is expected this year, but the category could offer up several surprises. With a wide open Oscar race, there’s probably a split in the offing between Picture and Director, two categories which traditionally pair up three-quarters of the time. But not always. Voters in the earliest Oscars didn’t believe strongly in a correlation between the Best Picture of the year and the person directing from behind the camera. Since then, there have been scattered years where that aberration occurred (such as for Hamlet, All the King’s Men, An American in Paris, and The Greatest Show on Earth). For Driving Miss Daisy, its director Bruce Beresford wasn’t even nominated. Going by recent history, the split has happened fairly frequently, culminating when Ang Lee took Best Director for Brokeback Mountain but Crash proved an upset Best Picture winner. Will another director be left at Oscar’s altar this year? Will The King’s Speech or The Fighter triumph, while David Fincher for The Social Network or Christopher Nolan for Inception wears the directing crown? An early signal will be the Directors Guild of America choice on January 29th. That group has a strong track record predicting the Director Oscar. Only six times since the DGA awards began in 1948 has the Guild and Academy not aligned. Here’s the alphabetical lineup of likely contenders and their chances this year:
BEN AFFLECK, The Town (Warner Bros.) – This Best Original Screenplay co-winner earned impressive notices for his first directing gig, Gone Baby Gone, and this year’s box office success, The Town, which he also co-wrote and stars in. He has won strong industry respect for his work behind the camera, but is a long shot to make the magic five. However, it looks like he’s becoming the new Clint, and that could eventually lead to his second Oscar — as a director.
DARREN ARONOFSKY, Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) – His intense indie films pull no punches. Now his dark and twisted Black Swan has dazzled the autumn fest circuit and became Fox Searchlight’s biggest box-office opener ever. Although its critical reception has been strong, it may be too much for more conservative Academy members. Nevertheless, Aronofsky’s eye-popping work here could impress enough of his peer group to land a spot in the top five.
DANNY BOYLE, 127 Hours (Fox Searchlight) – The well liked Boyle comes off his 2008 Oscar triumph, Slumdog Millionaire, with this unexpected follow-up. Using dazzling directorial tricks, styling with visual invention, and guiding star James Franco, Boyle pulls off this virtual one-man show. But some voters may be too squeamish to pop the DVD in their players after reports of faintings at early screenings. Plus, he just won, so it may be someone else’s turn.
LISA CHOLODENKO, The Kids Are All Right (Focus Features) – Previous films High Art and Laurel Canyon didn’t prepare the Industry for her confident work as director and co-writer of this warm and perceptive comedy. Showing she could assure superlative performances from major stars should further impress colleagues. But the notoriously male dominated directors’ club may not be ready to make it two in a row for her. An Original Screenplay nod is her best shot.
DEREK CIANFRANCE, Blue Valentine (The Weinstein Company) – This very personal study of the disintegration of a marriage was 12 years in the making for Cianfrance. His first feature, he elicited no-holds-barred acting from leads Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. Problem is, it may be too raw and intimate, which could overshadow the achievement. But here’s hoping it doesn’t take as long for this promising director’s second movie to reach the screen.
JOEL COEN & ETHAN COEN, True Grit (Paramount) – The Academy loves this prodigious writing/directing/producing team and have already honored them with four Oscars each, including one in this category. Can a remake of a John Wayne classic put them in contention again? The execution is flawless, and they have returned to Charles Portis’ original novel for inspiration while drawing first-rate performances. But Westerns don’t usually score for directors.
SOFIA COPPOLA, Somewhere (Focus Features) – Coppola lost Best Director for Lost In Translation in 2003 but won for her original screenplay. This latest film represents her second original screenplay and should be put in the writing category, but not necessarily in the directors’ circle again — although she did take the top prize at the Venice Film Festival (amid controversy because her pal Quentin Tarantino was head of the jury). No such problems now.
CLINT EASTWOOD, Hereafter (Warner Bros.) – A two time Best Director winner for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood can never be counted out. He didn’t make the cut for his last two attempts, Gran Torino and Invictus. His latest, Hereafter, drew mixed reviews and disappointing box office, so he’s a Director’s category dark horse at best this year. Though, never underestimate the respect from his peers for this 80-year-old icon.
DAVID FINCHER, The Social Network (Sony Pictures) – The director behind such dark but acclaimed films like Seven, Fight Club, Panic Room, and Zodiac finally found an Oscar nod with the challenging crowd-pleaser The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and now this successful Facebook-founding flick. Critics’ plaudits are piling up, and he’s back in the heat of the race, this time going for the win from Sweden where he’s rebooting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
In a week where everyone from the Hollywood Foreign Press to the Screen Actors Guild weighed in with nominations, perhaps no omission was as glaring as Javier Bardem being ignored for his performance in the Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu-directed Biutiful. Playing a street hustler who is desperate to find a place …
This Sunday, director Werner Herzog will conduct a Q&A with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu after a screening at the Directors Guild headquarters on Sunset Blvd at 7:30 PM. Herzog rarely does such things, but was moved to take part in the DGA members-only-event after seeing the film last month. ”I respect Werner and his films so much, because he takes risks and doesn’t compromise,” Inarritu told me. “This was a surprise and an honor, and it helps in the battle to get this film noticed.” Directors are now rallying behind the prestige film and helping it build slow momentum. Biutiful is Mexico’s submission for Best Foreign Language film, and the picture opened its all-categories Oscar campaign with an event last Saturday, hosted by Guillermo del Toro for Inarritu and his below-the-line collaborators Rodrigo Prieto, Gustavo Santaolalla, and Stephen Mirrione. Julian Schnabel showed his support at a Soho House screening in New York last Tuesday, and Robert Benton quizzed the director at DGA headquarters in New York the following day. Among the upcoming events will be a big screening in December that will be followed by a Q&A with Inarritu and Bardem, who’ll be grilled by Sean Penn.
Roadside Attractions is out with the first trailer for Biutiful, the drama by Amores Perros helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The film premiered at Cannes, where Javier Bardem won the Best Actor prize for his portrayal of a father facing his own mortality. The film opens December 29 in the U.S.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and I both happened to be waiting for our luggage at LAX after arriving on the charter from the Telluride Film Festival Monday night. He turned to me and said he had been thinking about the interview we did the day before. His powerful film, Biutiful, was playing all weekend at the fest and we had sat down to talk Sunday about the film, about the sad state of the movie industry, and about why it took so long for a U.S. distributor to pick it up after its Cannes premiere. He told me that because of this conversation, which he said was like “therapy”, he now thinks of Biutiful as an “act of resistance” against everything that is wrong with the movie industry today. The film dealing with a father’s descent into the abyss and journey towards redemption won Best Actor for star Javier Bardem. and now continues on the fest circuit with its official North American premiere tonight in Toronto. Only recently did it finally score a U.S. distribution deal (after several rejections) with Roadside Attractions and will open just in the nick of time for Oscar consideration on December 29th. Some American press in particular have complained that the film was too dark and depressing to find an audience. Others have raved.
Whatever the reaction, Inarritu thinks the festival and awards circuit is crucial for Biutiful’s ultimate success. “For this film literally it’s a matter of life or death,” he said pointing to the lack of choices he had in even getting the film released this year. “There are very few independent distributors. Very few. It’s getting tough. This film is very fragile, it’s very delicate. One wrong message when we are competing with such big films and… I’m talking about the fact that it was this close to the film not even being distributed at all. Thanks to Roadside, I think they were very brave. The entire world was sold immediately but not the U.S. That was very shocking. Normally it was the U.S. leading the way and the other ones were the followers. Now you open it everywhere and then the U.S. watches what happens. This country is importing fewer foreign films or films that are interested in our society.”
Although it will be eligible in all categories for Oscar, the director is hoping it will also be the official foreign language film nominee from Mexico, even though it was shot in Spain.