Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Casting Coup: The Godfather

*What was I thinking here? First of all, my run-down of the Best Picture nominees of 1972, though meant to be amusing, isn't that funny, and almost reads as offensive. Second...a blaxploitation Godfather isn't a bad idea, really, but...what was I trying to prove here? Why Tommy Lee Jones as Moe Greene? Weird.*

CASTING COUP MONTH remembers the wisdom of Michael Caine, who did the Sleuth remake precisely because it was different from the original. After all, he reasoned, what's the point in doing the same damn thing all over again?

There are many remakes that have gone for the shot-for-shot, exact same thing "re-imagining". They say it's different, but it's not. Gus Van Sant's Psycho was the same film, but in color! John Moore's The Omen tacked on a "prologue" about the End Times approaching, but then gave the same story with better death sequences. Rob Zombie's Halloween had a forty-five-minute prologue begging us to love Michael Myers before making the same movie, only with worse dialogue and no acting. It was pathetic.

So, what's the point in doing The Godfather (1972) is you're not going to spice things up a bit? After all, the original was AFI's #3 greatest film of all time in 1997, before moving up to #2 in 2007. Many critics and film scholars consider it superior to Citizen Kane. And sure, it won only three out of its eleven Oscar nominations, but fuck you, you know?

Besides, three of those losses were in one category, so there was probably a lot of vote-splitting. Oh, yeah, you knew that, right? RIGHT? Three of the five Supporting Actor Nominees were from The Godfather. The Oscar went to Joel Grey for Cabaret, making him that rare breed of actor, winning an Oscar and a Tony for the same role. This happened seven times previously (and if they keep making decisions like replacing Cherry Jones with Meryl Streep, may never happen again). Anyway, Robert Duvall, James Caan, and Al Pacino were all deserved nominees--though can't we agree that Pacino should have been in the Lead Actor category?

Nino Rota lost the Oscar for Original Score, as it was deemed ineligible, its nomination withdrawn. Apparently, he was re-using old themes from Fortunella, an earlier film. Ironically, the Oscar went to Charlie Chaplin, Ray Rasch, and Larry Russell for Limelight, a film made in 1952 but not released in the USA until 1972. Meanwhile, Anthony Powell's Costumes for Travels with My Aunt (starring Maggie Smith) triumphed over Anna Hill Johnstone's designs.

Cabaret was the big winner that year. Besides Best Supporting Actor, The Godfather lost the Sound (Charles Grenzbach/Richard Portman/Christopher Newman to Robert Knudson/David Hildyard), Film Editing (William Reynolds/Peter Zinner to David Bretherton), and Director (Francis Ford Coppola to Bob Fosse) to the Kander and Ebb musical. It seemed poised to take the Best Picture Oscar; alas, this was not to be.

If The Godfather would only get three Oscars, it was going down swinging. First off, one of the most important awards, that of Best Adapted Screenplay, went to director Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, the original novelist. Writing a best-selling novel, then getting the Oscar for your script? Bad-ass, Mario. Marlon Brando (the title character?) won Best Actor, and famously decided not to accept his award until the Native Americans were better treated. A Hispanic actress dressed as an American Indian accepted the award, and made the entire thing just plain weird.

Best Picture. The Godfather won Best Picture. It had to win Best Picture. It kicked way too much ass not to. Deliverance? Just a hicksploitation flick, really. Cabaret? Fairy musical. Sounder? Please. A black folks movie? Please. The Emigrants? Just a Swede film, pass it by. It HAD to be The Godfather. Look, see the movie. It's got film noir bad-assery dripping out of its ears. The movie shits gold. Pure fucking mountain gold. Brando? Pacino? Duvall? All Gods. In a Zeus way, not in a Yahweh way. This thing put Coppola on the map.

Dare we consider, though, that the time of the Italian Mob flick has come and gone? That The Sopranos is over, whereas American Gangster is nominated at the Oscars? See where I'm going with this?

What if The Godfather was a blaxploitation gangster flick?

Who is He: A film producer who loves horses, but doesn't want any part of them in his bed.

Originally played by: Philip Baker Hall's brother, John Marley

My Choice: I've decided to make everybody who's not in the family white. And a comic actor. Because that's funny. Plus, wouldn't you love to hear this guy hurling racist obscenities at people?

Academy Award Nominee Elliott Gould (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Ocean's Thirteen)

Who is He: A corrupt cop who screws over the Corleones. Bad idea, man, bad idea.

Originally played by: Sterling Hayden

My Choice: Less Irish, more Dutch. Let's call this character Captain Notirish.

Rutger Hauer (The Hitcher, Blade Runner)

Who is He: A glorified drug dealer. Dangerous and deadly. He says things like, "Try the veal, it's the best in the city." He's in league with Capt. McCluskey.

Originally played by: Al Lettieri

My Choice: Finally, we're getting to the actual inner workings of the Black Mafia. Virgil "The Man" Solomon would say things like, "Try the motherfuckin' veal, it's the motherfuckin' best in the motherfuckin' city!"

Academy Award/Hollmann Nominee Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Black Snake Moan)

Who is He: The Godfather's godson, a popular crooner who wants the lead role in a film that is most certainly not From Here to Eternity with Frank Sinatra. Not at all. Uh-uh.

Originally played by: Al Martino

My Choice: I won't do "gangsta rap", but there is a man out there able to combine hip-hop with Sinatra's charisma.

Academy Award Nominee Will Smith (Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness)

Who is He: An undertaker who asks the Godfather to kill the men who raped his daughter. Has the first lines of the movie.

Originally played by: Salvatore Corsitto

My Choice: As Goudet, I'm all about revitalizing careers

Sherman Hemsley ("The Jeffersons", "Amen")

Who is He: The head of one of the Five Families. His hand-shaking with the Godfather is a great moment indeed.

Originally played by: Richard Conte

My Choice: As Emilio Boss, I've been waiting to see this guy go toe-to-toe with my Godfather for quite some time.

Delroy Lindo (This Christmas, The Cider House Rules)

Who is He: The most famous man to ever sleep with the fishes. He hoped Connie's first child was a masculine child.

Originally played by: Lenny Montana

My Choice: As Luke Brands, the only actor who consistently gives top-notch performances in shitty movies.

Faizon Love (Blue Crush, The Perfect Holiday)

Who is He: A big deal in Vegas. Michael wants to do business with him.

Originally played by: Alex Rocco

My Choice: Let's dress this up a bit, give it a bit of down-home flair.

Academy Award Winner Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive, In the Valley of Elah)

Who is He: Family friend, and also a friend of Vito's. Hooray!

Originally played by: Abe Vigoda, still defying death at 126

My Choice: As Sam Tessly, an old veteran.

Academy Award Winner Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field, A Raisin in the Sun)

Who is He: A fatty who can cook--and kill. One of the awesomest characters, he remembers to leave the gun, but take the canollis.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee Richard S. Castellano (Lovers and Other Strangers)

My Choice: Well, he needs to be deadly, yet have comic timing.

Academy Award Winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Battlefield Earth)

Who is She: Michael's bride when he is exiled in Italy.

Originally played by: Simonetta Stefanelli

My Choice: When Michael goes to Nigeria, he meets the beautiful Abali. Here is the beautiful Abali.

Academy Award Nominee Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda, The Martian Child)

Who is He: Connie's abusive husband. Gets the shit beaten out of him by Sonny.

Originally played by: Gianni Russo

My Choice: As Carl Ross, a favorite of ours here on Planet Earth.

Academy Award Nominee Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow, Crash)

Who is She: The Godfather's daughter, whose wedding to Carlo opens the flick.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee Talia Shire (The Godfather: Part II, Rocky)

My Choice: As Connie Tyson Ross, an actress that I hope gets more and more exposure as time goes on.

Hollmann Nominee Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls, The Princess & the Frog)

Who is He: The weakest of the sons. Spineless, willing to take sides against the Family, not cool. Guy's just a mess.

Originally played by: John Cazale, ex-fiance of Meryl Streep (he died of bone cancer)

My Choice: As Freddie Tyson, this guy can play anything, from a psychotic sociopath (Devil in a Blue Dress) to British explosives expert (The Ocean Movies).

Academy Award Nominee Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Talk to Me)

Who is He: The hot-headed oldest son, he is quick to react with his fists, but is not the best thinker.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee James Caan (The Godfather)

My Choice: As Sonny Tyson, again: bona fide bad-ass.

Idris Elba (This Christmas, American Gangster)

Who is He: The German-Irish orphan adopted by the Godfather, he becomes the consigliere to the Family. Here's a secret: he's my favorite character.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies)

My Choice: Like I said, if you're not in the Family, you're a whitey.

Academy Award Nominee John C. Reilly (Chicago, The Hours)

Who is She: Michael's fiancee and eventual wife, she remains out of the loop. She flip-flops between willful ignorance and angry demands for the truth.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, Something's Gotta Give)

My Choice: She's a white woman. And slightly older. And a feminist. Oh-ho, she most certainly does NOT fit in with the mob wife stereotype!

Janeane Garofalo (Ratatouille, Wet Hot American Summer)

Who is He: He may be the youngest of the brothers, but he's the only competent one. Takes over the Family Business after the Godfather's retirement. Goes from War Hero to Crime Lord within a two hour film.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman)

My Choice: As Mike Tyson (lol), only the greatest actor under forty to come out of this generation.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster, Kinky Boots)

Who is He: The Fucking Godfather

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront, The Godfather)

My Choice: Are you ready? Bear with me here, people, because you will see the wisdom of this choice. This guy's playing Vincent Tyson.

Danny Glover (The Royal Tenenbaums, Gone Fishin')

What d'ya think? Too radical? Or JUST RIGHT?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Casting Coup: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

*Casting Coup Month 1, Week 2, Day 2. One of my favorites.*

CASTING COUP MONTH is about to blow your fucking minds.

If memory serves correctly, the subject of today's Casting Coup was the first film to be nominated in all its eligible categories. It's easier to list the categories it was not nominated in: Original Screenplay, Special Visual Effects, Sound Effects, Song, Adapted Score, Animated Short, Live Action Short, Documentary Short, Documentary, Foreign Film. So, let's just keep this in mind: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) was nominated for thirteen Oscars. It won six.

I really need to see every film it was up against in all categories, because I cannot imagine how any movie from 1966 could be better than this. The Academy thought so, though: specifically, it thought A Man for All Seasons was better. And I know I can't, technically, say Fred Zinneman didn't deserve the Director Oscar for A Man for All Seasons over Mike Nichols, but think about this: This was Nichols' first film. Ever. Now watch it again, and prepare to amazed.

Everyone knows of the incomprehensible conspiracy to keep Richard Burton from winning the Academy Award. He's our parents' Peter O'Toole: alcoholic, well-respected, deserved to win, always lost. This year, he lost Best Actor to Paul Scofield (A Man for All Seasons). And George Segal's memorable portrayal of Nick lost to Walter Matthau in The Fortune Cookie. Of course, I'm a Matthau fan, so I can't really complain, especially since I haven't seen The Fortune Cookie. But was the Screenplay to A Man for All Seasons (Robert Bolt) really better than Ernest Lehman's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? adaptation? The mind boggles at such a thought. The film also lost Sound (George R. Groves) to Grand Prix (Franklin E. Milton) and Original Score (Alex North) to Born Free (John Barry, one of my favorites).

But why dwell on the losses? Let us be amazed at the wins. For instance, can't we be impressed that the entire cast got a nom in their respective categories, and half of them won? That's right: Elizabeth Taylor, aged 34, won the Best Actress Oscar for playing a fifty-something housewife. AND SHE DESERVED IT. Sandy Dennis, aged 29, won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing a much younger, more naive woman. The New Yorker put it best: "When a performance is as triumphant as Miss Dennis' any description seems irrelevant."

Haskell Wexler won the Cinematography Oscar (DESERVED), Richard Sylbert and George James Hopkins won the Art/Set Decoration Oscar (DESERVED), and Irene Sharaff won the Costume Design Oscar (DESERVED). And they all DESERVED it. Martha's outfit is practically iconic. You can't think of the movie without remembering exactly what she was wearing throughout the majority of the picture.

God, it actually boggles my mind that I'm thinking of a new cast for this. Can't I choose another one? The Graduate? The Godfather? MASH? No?

No. For my mind is made up, and I have decided thus: if anyone's gonna take over (and there have been talks for a remake for four years now), than these are the people best suited to the job.

Who is She: "The petite, bland wife of Nick. She is 26 years old, has a weak stomach, and is not the brightest bulb of the bunch."

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner Sandy Dennis (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

My Choice: The only Brit in this cast, but I think she could pull this off.

Romola Garai (Vanity Fair, Atonement)

Who is He: "A new member of the biology faculty at New Carthage University. He is 28 years old, good-looking, Midwestern, and clean-cut."

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee George Segal (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

My Choice: One of the more sinfully overlooked actors of our generation. In every comedy, but he can nail drama. He just fucking ROCKS.

Ryan Reynolds (The Amityville Horror, Smokin' Aces)

Who is She: "The 52-year-old daughter of the president of New Carthage University. She is married to George, though disappointed with his aborted academic career. She attempts to have an affair with Nick."

Listen to what Martha has to say:

"I swear to GOD, George, if you even EXISTED, I'd divorce you."

"I hope that was an empty bottle, George! You can't afford to waste good liquor, not on YOUR salary!"

"George and Martha: Sad, sad, sad."

"Hey, swamp! Hey swampy!"

"I'm loud and I'm vulgar, and I wear the pants in the house because somebody's got to, but I am not a monster. I'm not."

Originally played (magnificently) by: Academy Award Winner Elizabeth Taylor (BUtterfield 8, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

My Choice: It's time she step up and play both the housewife AND the bitch.

Academy Award Winner Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock, Mystic River)

Who is He: Someone I want to play very, very badly. "A 46-year-old member of the history department at New Carthage University. George is married to Martha, in a once loving relationship now defined by sarcasm and frequent acrimony."

Let's just hear some awesome things George gets to say:

"Martha? Rubbing alcohol for you?"

"Martha is 108... years old. She weighs somewhat more than that."

"Martha, will you show her where we keep the, uh, euphemism?"

"I said I was impressed. I'm beside myself with jealousy. What do you want me to do, throw up?"

"Now, I will hold your hand when it's dark and you're afraid of the boogeyman and I will tote your gin bottles out after midnight so no one can see but I will not light your cigarette. And that, as they say, is that."

Originally played (in an almost demigod-like fashion) by: Academy Award Nominee Richard Burton (My Cousin Rachel, The Robe, Becket, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Anne of the Thousand Days, Equus)

My Choice: Underrated, underrated, underrated. Absolutely could play this role and get a nomination. Easily.

Hollmann Award Nominee Bruce Greenwood (I'm Not There, Thirteen Days)

I know you'll all agree with these unless you think only Brits should play George. But come on. You can totally fucking dig this.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Casting Coup: Lawrence of Arabia

*Oh, man, this is so funny. I call Alec Baldwin under-appreciated, I ask if Javier Bardem is going to win the Oscar, and I even use the phrase "whatever happened to..." in regards to Colin Firth. These are just three cast members in my remake of Lawrence of Arabia. I hadn't looked at this in a long time, but I like it. I don't think I'd change it at all.*

CASTING COUP MONTH finally gets to all-male epics, proving you don't need romance to be a great movie.

Lawrence of Arabia came out the same year as the first Bond flick, Dr. No. Clearly, 1962 was a bad-ass year, as this was also the time of To Kill a Mockingbird and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?.

The film is a legend, and rightly so. First of all, despite its three hour-plus length, it goes by quickly and leaves you wanting more. It's the movie that made Peter O'Toole a star, and Lord knows that can never be considered a sin. And also, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quinn. HE IS AMAZING.

Let's just say it scored big at the Oscars. That it almost made Oscar its sobbing bitch. Can we say that? I think so. After all, it was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning seven. Film Editing went to Anne Coates (well-earned), Sound to John Cox (thumbs up), Art Direction to John Box, John Stoll and Dario Simoni (hell yes), Score to Maurice Jarre (THERE IS NO GREATER SCORE IN ALL OF HUMANITY), Cinematography to Fred A. Young (of course), Direction to David Lean (he has a BAFTA named for him--that's how bad-ass he is), and Best Picture of the Year. Which it undoubtedly was.

Yet much is made of its losses. Not that people complain--that's the remarkable thing. Well, okay, some people want to crucify Ed Begley (Sweet Bird of Youth) for beating out Omar Sharif for Best Supporting Actor, but I can't judge that myself. I should, however, say whether or not I agree Horton Foote (To Kill a Mockingbird) beating out Robert Bolt in the Adapted Screenplay category, or if I'm pissed about Peter O'Toole losing Best Actor to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird.

And yet, I can't. Both films are too dear to me, too close to my heart for me to really give an opinion. This much I'll say: Lawrence of Arabia is getting the casting coup treatment.

Who is He: A real character. Not liked by his troops, he commands from Cairo as opposed to getting down and dirty in the field. He sends Lawrence to Arabia.

Originally played by: Donald Wolfit

My Choice: Willing to put up a British stiff upper lip, despite his Australian-ness.

Academy Award Winner Geoffrey Rush (Shine, Shakespeare in Love)

Who is He: A fictional character. An American reporter, Bentley follows Lawrence throughout his military career and becomes disenchanted and cynical with the whole charade. Based on Lowell Thomas, who liked Lawrence.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee Arthur Kennedy (Champion, Bright Victory, Trial, Peyton Place, Some Came Running)

My Choice: Yes, he is underappreciated.

Academy Award Nominee Alec Baldwin (The Cooler, The Cat in the Hat)

Who is He: A fictional reporter. A politician who looks at things with a dry, amused demeanor. Kind of prickish, but he's looking at the Arab Situation from a London/civilian/political point of view.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee/God among men Claude Rains (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Casablanca, Mr. Skeffington, Notorious)

My Choice: One with more luck, Oscar-wise.

Academy Award Winner Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs, Elephant Man)

Who is He: A fictional character. Admires Lawrence, but is a little repulsed by his showboating. Does not get along with the Arabs. David Lean called him "the only honorable character".

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee Anthony Quayle (Anne of the Thousand Days)

My Choice: Where did this guy go?

Colin Firth (Love Actually, The Importance of Being Earnest)

Who is He: A character who may or may not be real. Lawrence said yes, historians said they don't think so. Anyway, he captures and tortures Lawrence.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner Jose Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac)

My Choice: Another Latin man, to keep with tradition.

Academy Award Nominee (Winner?) Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, Before Night Falls)

Who is He: A real character. Manipulative and cold, Allenby gets Lawrence involved for military glory. In real life, they were apparently great friends.

Originally played by: Jack Hawkins

My Choice:

Academy Award Winner Jim Broadbent (Iris, Moulin Rouge!)

Who is He: A real character. A Bedouin tribe leader, he helps Lawrence in Arabia, but lets blood-feuds and greed control him. The best fucking character in the movie.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner Anthony Quinn (Viva Zapata!, Lust for Life)

My Choice: An actor of actual Middle Eastern descent!

Shaun Toub (Crash, Iron Man)

Who is He: A real character. Royalty, obviously. He fights against the Ottomans, and happens to be a direct descendant of Mohammed. He wanted the Arab countries to be united and independent of the imperialists.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner Alec Guinness (The Bridge on the River Kwai)

My Choice: Actually, this guy played Prince Feisal in the 1990 TV movie Lawrence After Arabia.

Alexander Siddig (Syriana, Poirot: Cards on the Table)

Who is He: A fictional character. He is a loyal adviser/friend/companion to Lawrence, but is able to see him for what he truly is, and not just as some sort of deliverer.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee Omar Sharif (Lawrence of Arabia)

My Choice: Come on. Who the fuck else?

Naveen Andrews ("Lost", The Brave One)

Who is He: The guy who tried to unite the Arabs. A kick-ass Brit with little humility and much fighting skills.

Originally played by: Academy Award/Hollmann Nominee Peter O'Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year, Venus, Ratatouille)

My Choice: In a perfect world?

But since he's at least five years too old for the part...

Academy Award Nominee Jude Law (Cold Mountain, The Talented Mr. Ripley)

And there you have it. I think it's relatively good. But what do you think?