Sunday, February 26, 2012

Who's That Winning All Those Oscars?

It's here already? The Oscars?

But...but how? Just last week I was reading about this new film called The Artist that would be lucky enough to find an audience....Billy Crystal's hosting stint was just a rumor after the debacle that was the Franco/Hathaway affair...Is it even Christmas yet?

I still have six nominees to see. This is kind of par for the course, but usually it's in categories like Visual Effects or Costume that I'm missing out on; still is this year, but I've also got gaps in Leading Actor and two in Original Screenplay. Embarrassing (2008 was probably my best year; I only missed Defiance and Australia. To be fair, so did everyone else)!

No time for regrets or might-have-beens now, though. Now's the time to put my reputation on the line and give my predictions. Starting with the pure guesswork:

ANIMATED SHORT: "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"
MAKEUP: The Iron Lady
VISUAL EFFECTS: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
COSTUME: Anonymous
EDITING: The Artist
SONG: "Man or Muppet", The Muppets
SCORE: The Artist
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Octavia Spencer, The Help
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
ACTOR: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
ACTRESS: Viola Davis, The Help
DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
PICTURE: The Artist

The Gold Rush: Part 2

You know you want to check out Part One of this conversation, if just for context. It's over at the March King's blog. It's our annual Oscar Conversation, The Gold Rush, a continuation of the conversations we had in his living room when we first started following Awards Season seriously.
SILVER SCREENER: So, on to the big stuff?

MARCH KING: Alrighty.

SS: Let's get Actor out of the way, because I haven't seen A Better Life yet.

Quien es?
MK: (chuckle) A Better Life... I guess I don't really get it. He was fine. But Best
Actor? Really? Anyway, my pick would have to be Gary.

SS: Oh, undoubtedly. There was no better moment on Oscar Nom Morning than when his name came up. It's quiet, it's layered, it's a beautiful thing.

MK: It's subtle, but somehow seems to explode at just the right moments. Something I would have liked to see George [Clooney] try. Not to knock George, I love George. But at this point in his career... between these two roles... Gary clearly trumps. And Brad [Pitt] did a good job as well. But he wasn't Gary.

SS: Though Brad really brought it, too. An old-fashioned Movie Star role that was just about perfect for his strengths.

MK: Love Brad. He's really trying these days. Even looking back at his questionable can still see how hard he was trying. Like I can understand how he may have been misled by the idea of muscle over madness... something about his fitness preparation still screamed actor. Sadly the actual performance fell flat. Then fast-forward to Benjamin Button. He was really something in that. Brad's starting to click in all the right places. No question.

SS: I think he has been for a while.

MK: Yeah, it's fun to watch.

SS: And then, of course, there's the inevitable winner, Jean Dujardin.

MK: ...yeah...

SS: I'm down with that. Of this lineup, he's my close second.

MK: He's good. Not gonna deny that. I just would rather see Gary.

SS: Well, yeah, but of this specific lineup, I would be pleased for Dujardin, Oldman or Pitt if they got it. Full-on celebration.

MK: It's that kind of year man.

So can we back up for a second? I feel like we've skipped a few things. Documentary Feature, Animated Feature...

SS: Because who cares?

MK: Me?

SS: Fine. In both those categories, I've seen Puss in Boots and Rango. Rango's great, so is Puss. I think Rango gets it, but I'd be down with a Puss win, too

MK: See I'm thinking it's between Kung Fu Panda 2 and Rango. Something so beautiful about Kung Fu Panda 2. It’s in my top ten this year.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Winners' Circle

Oscar Season is hilarious. No matter how open a season seems at the beginning, no matter how many surprise nominations are thrown at us in the precursors, sooner or later everything falls into step. SAGs a few weeks ago, BAFTAs last night, plus DGA and PGA in between, confirmed this. You can talk about how Brad Pitt is due, Scorsese's a legend, Woody Allen's had his biggest hit in year, etc., etc., but sooner or later you gotta wake up and smell the inevitability. I gotta say though, when the inevitable is fun, gorgeous and's not the worst that could happen.

So, the awards run-down of the past couple of months.

Drama: The Descendants
Musical/Comedy: The Artist
Actor - Drama: George Clooney, The Descendants
Actress - Drama: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Actor - Musical/Comedy: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Actress - Musical/Comedy: Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Director: Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Screenplay: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Score: Ludovic Bource, The Artist
Song: "Masterpiece", W.E.

Ensemble: The Help
Actress: Viola Davis, The Help
Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

The Artist

Picture: The Artist
British Film: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Original Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Adapted Screenplay: Bridget O'Connor/Peter Straughan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Score: Ludovic Bource, The Artist
Cinematography: Guillaume Schiffman, The Artist
Editing: Gregers Sall/Chris King, Senna
Production Design: Dante Ferretti/Francesca Lo Schiavo, Hugo
Costume Design: Mark Bridges, The Artist
Makeup: The Iron Lady
Sound: Hugo
Visual Effects: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2


So The Artist is the frontrunner. Winning big at the Globes, Guilds and BAFTAs will do that for you. Of course, there's the inevitable backlash, people claiming it's the light, safe choice. Because, really, what's safer than a low-grossing, black-and-white French silent film? Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer are locks, WGA still needs to announce, and Jean Dujardin quickly bested "frontrunner" George Clooney and "due" Brad Pitt.

The only real race now is in Actress, and it's between Viola Davis and Meryl Streep. It's always between [fill in the blank] and Meryl Streep, but this year saw a real knock-out performance from her, albeit in a film that's getting a mixed reception. Again. If we look at where Streep reigned, however, it's not too big a surprise: the Golden Globes have handed her numerous awards over the years, and The Iron Lady is (obviously) a much more BAFTA thing than The Help. Still, it's Streep's first BAFTA win since The French Lieutenant's Woman. This baby could go either way.

Oscar predictions to come, naturally.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Casting Coup Week: Chinatown

I was lucky when I first saw Chinatown: the final twenty minutes, among the most famous in all of cinema, was completely unknown to me. So I had the dropped jaw, the sinking feeling, the lump in the throat, all of it from the get-go. That was in high school. The second time I saw it, last year...same thing. Maybe not the dropped jaw, but there was still an awful sadness. Chinatown is a movie that's a lot of fun, until it takes you through the wringer. Yet so expertly executed is this, you have to return. You can't forget it; it's Chinatown.

A co-worker of mine asked me what it was about. I said I couldn't tell him, it would spoil everything. But if you really want to know and haven't seen it: it's about a private eye who gets a job photographing his client's husband with another woman. However, his client is just impersonating the real wife, the husband winds up dead, and the fraud disappears. The private eye investigates, and the audience is treated to noir, a history lesson, and social injustice. Despite the abundant humor and hot romance, it is a Downer of a film.

But of course: it's Roman Polanski, who received his first nomination for Best Director with this film (Coppola won for The Godfather: Part II). Polanski, who was previously nominated in Best Adapted Screenplay for Rosemary's Baby, is not famous for his hopeful, Love Conquers All endings. Interestingly, Chinatown's famous ending is all Polanski, as screenwriter Robert Towne wanted a more upbeat finale. Towne also didn't want to excise any of his original 300+-page manuscript, which had a sprawling ensemble and a more episodic structure. They fought and argued, argued and fought; they compromised, and we have the Chinatown as we know it today: a perfect movie with a perfect screenplay.

Towne was the only winner of the bunch, for Original Screenplay. In addition to his win and Polanski's nod, Chinatown was nominated for Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), losing to Harry & Tonto's Art Carney; Best Actress (Faye Dunaway), losing to Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore's Ellen Burstyn; Best Sound, losing to Earthquake; Best Editing (Sam O'Steen) and Best Cinematography (John A. Alonzo), losing to The Towering Inferno; Best Costume Design (Anthea Sylbert), losing to The Great Gatsby; and Best Art Direction, Best Original Score (Jerry Goldsmith), and Best Picture of the Year, losing to The Godfather: Part II. It's ok, Chinatown; I like you more than all those others.

So if I love it, and if it's considered by many to be perfect just the way it is, why even suggest a different cast? Because we can!

Who is He: The Mulwrays' faithful manservant, he sees everything and says nothing.
Originally played by:
James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China, Mulan)

My Choice:
Chin Han (The Dark Knight, Contagion)

Who is She: The mysterious woman who poses as Evelyn Mulwray, asking Jake Gittes to catch her husband in an infidelity. When she is revealed to be a fraud, she suddenly disappears...
Originally played by: Academy Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Wild at Heart, Rambling Rose), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore)
Diane Ladd (Ghosts of Mississippi, Primary Colors)

My Choice:
Katie Finneran (Night of the Living Dead, Firehouse Dog)

Who is He: Chief engineer for LA Department of Water and Power, opposed to the building of a new dam, former business partner of Noah Cross, husband of Evelyn, dead man.

Originally played by:
Darrell Zwerling (TV's The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, And Justice for All)

My Choice:
John Hodgman (Coraline, "Bored to Death")

Who is He: Acting head of the Department of Water and Power, secretive and snobbish.
Originally played by:
John Hillerman (At Long Last Love, "Magnum, P.I.")

My Choice:
Christian Clemenson (Broadcast News, J. Edgar)
He can play that snooty, entitled suit well -- haven't you ever watched "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr."?

Who is He: Homicide detective, an old acquaintance of Jake's. Doesn't always see the big picture, doesn't always like Jake, but he seems like a smart guy who respects a pro.
Originally played by:
Perry Lopez (Che!, The Two Jakes)

My Choice:
Cliff Curtis (Whale Rider, Runaway Jury)

Who is He: Wealthy and influential landowner. A humorous gentleman, but scarily powerful. Concerned about the whereabouts of Katherine Cross, who was seen with Mulwray before he was found dead.
Originally played by: Hollmann Award/BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Chinatown)Academy Award Winner for Best Director and Best Screenplay (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), Golden Globe Winner for Best Director (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Prizzi's Honor) and Best Supporting Actor (The Cardinal), WGA Award Winner for Best American Western (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre)
John Huston (Myra Breckinridge, The Visitor)

My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Actor (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor - Drama & Musical/Comedy (Big, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Cast Away), SAG Award Winner for Best Actor (Forrest Gump) and Best Ensemble (Apollo 13)
Tom Hanks (Road to Perdition, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
He's like America's Dad, and he's as great a dramatic actor as he is a comedic one. Just imagine that last scene -- or any scene, really -- with Tom Hanks. It'd be completely different from John Huston's, which is a good thing; why would you want everything to be exactly the same? It'd easily be one of his best performances.

Who is She: Hollis's wife, Noah's daughter. Her secrets and lies get Jake suspicious of her,  and her beauty and vulnerbaility get him into bed with her. But the secret she'd holding tightest to is the darkest of all...

Originally played by: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actress (Chinatown), Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress [Drama] (Network), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (Chinatown, Network)
Faye Dunaway (Little Big Man, Mommie Dearest)

My Choice:
Christina Hendricks (Life as We Know It, Drive)
If "Mad Men"'s Joan Harris and Drive's Blanche don't convince you, what in the world will? She's beautiful, she can do period, she can do noir, she tears your heart out with her silences. She's perfect for Evelyn.

Who is He: A former cop with a past (of course), now a private eye with a problem: his last client wasn't who she said she was. To protect his rep, he's on the case to find out who really hired him, and why. He'll uncover an underbelly even darker and more complicated than anything he found in his last turf: Chinatown.

Originally played by: Hollmann Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (The Departed), Academy Award Winner for Best Actor (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, As Good As It Gets) and Best Supporting Actor (Terms of Endearment), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actor (Chinatown & The Last Detail, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and Best Supporting Actor (Reds), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor - Drama & Musical/Comedy (Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Prizzi's Honor, As Good As It Gets, About Schmidt) and Best Supporting Actor (Terms of Endearment), SAG Award Winner for Best Actor (As Good As It Gets)
Jack Nicholson (The Raven, How Do You Know?)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Milk), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (No Country for Old Men)
Josh Brolin (True Grit, Thrashin')
I do think Jake needs to be well-past thirty, old enough for his cynicism and experience. Brolin has a quiet intensity that I like, and a laconic style of humor that fits Gittes well. He'd look good in the suit, too.

Best Actor: Josh Brolin
Best Actress: Christina Hendricks
Best Supporting Actor: Tom Hanks, Cliff Curtis, Christian Clemenson

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Casting Coup Week: Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins! Thank my oldest sister for my love of Mary Poppins -- when it was released on Disney Special Edition VHS, she was quick to purchase a copy and watch it with us. Even as a little boy, I found Mary pretty hot, and my sister said that I could distract Mary while she goes after Bert. I guess the songs and everything were good too, but mainly I remember Mary in that Nanny outfit. I'll take more than a spoonful, know what I mean?

So, about ten years pass, and I decide maybe it's time to revisit the film for my Retro Hollmanns. And I know I'll like the songs, but because I barely remember the essentials, I'm scared to discover (a) Andrews is too treacly, and (b) it's one of those "boo parents should be more FUN" kind of rides.

I was wrong. Andrews' Mary is sweet and beautiful, but she is also quite stern. And while the parents should be more fun, the kids should also be more understanding and gracious. It's a well-balanced narrative, great fun, actually moving. Haven't we all been brought to tears by "Feed the Birds"? Do we not, all of us, wish to spend a "Jolly Holiday" with Mary? Is it so unreasonable for us to "Love to Laugh"?

I can't even justifiably call Mary Poppins escapist, not when there's a performance like David Tomlinson's. As Mr. Banks, he gave my favorite performance of that year, and one of the best of all time. It's a light but effective portrayal of a man whose expectations conflict with reality, so he tries to adjust everything to fit his vision. There's something absolutely lovely about a film that holds up living chalk drawings as more "real" than a stuffy bank. Life needs humor and color and spontaneity; Mr. Banks' learning this is as touching as it is amusing. And again, it comes without holding up the children to esteem, for they have to earn their adventures.

Clearly, Oscar voters saw the same thing I did all those years ago, as it was My Fair Lady's chief opponent for the Academy Awards. With thirteen nominations, Mary Poppins was just one tick away from tying All About Eve for most-nominated film EVARR (Titanic made it first). It may have lost Adapted Score, Sound, Director, Picture, Art Direction, Cinematography and Costume Design to My Fair Lady. It may have been defeated at Adapted Screenplay by Becket. But it did come away with five Oscars: the Sherman Brothers brought home trophies for both Best Substantially Original Score (yes, it qualified for both Score categories) and Best Original Song, "Chim Chim Cher-ee". Peter Ellenshaw, Hamilton Luske and Eustace Lycett won for Best Visual Effects -- and when you see a flying Mary, floating smoke stairs, and animated penguins dancing with Dick Van Dyke, you know why. Cotton Warburton won Film Editing, and newcomer Julie Andrews famously was named Best Actress in a Leading Role, forever earning her place among the pantheon of Great Performances.

How, then, to compete? Well, I don't compete, I just do what I can and hope it passes muster. Does it?
Who is She: A poor woman who sits on the steps of St. Paul's, asking passersby to spare some change in in order to help feed the birds. A symbol of unselfishness.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (The Grapes of Wrath)
Jane Darwell (Gone with the Wind, Captain Tugboat Annie)

My Choice:
Patricia Routledge ("Keeping Up Appearances", "Hetty Wainthropp Investigates")
Despite the size of the role, Disney was determined to get one of his favorite character actresses to play the Bird Woman in what turned out to be her swan song performance. Now, I don't expect Routledge, who I've been a fan of for years, to up and die soon, but she is one of my favorite character actresses, and I would love to see her in this most beloved and crucial of cameos.

Who is He: Admiral Boom's first mate. He fires the daily cannon from their roof. Where does that thing land, anyway?

Originally played by:
Don Barclay (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Disney's Alice in Wonderland)
My Choice:
Paul Shane ("You Rang, M'Lord?", "Oh Doctor Beeching!")
I'd like to thank PBS for airing all those great Britcoms of the 70s, 80s and 90s. It exposed me to a number of great British character actors, and Shane was among my favorites. His subtle reactions would be hilarious for a quietly funny role like Mr. Binnacle.

Who is He: A neighbor of the Banks', Admiral Boom is a retired Navy man who still behaves as though he were on a ship. He fires a cannon on the hour from his rooftop, having decorated it with a mast and bow. He may be a little nutty, but he's harmless. Except for that cannon. Really, someone in the park is getting hurt.

Originally played by:
Reginald Owen (A Christmas Carol, Mrs. Miniver)
My Choice:
Donald Sinden (The Island at the Top of the World, TV's Marple: The Blue Geranium)
With his distinct voice and noble bearing, Sinden's been typecast for years as Sir This and Colonel That. He's got a wonderful sense of timing, too.

Who is He: The copper what's in charge of this particular neighborhood.

Originally played by:
Arthur Treacher (Satan Met a Lady, Star Spangled Rhythm)

My Choice:
Adrian Scarborough (Gosford Park, The King's Speech)

Who is He: Senior president of the Dawes, Tomes, Mousely, Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. Hasn't laughed in years.

Originally played by:
Navckid Keyd

My Choice:
on the R: Frank Thorton (Are You Being Served?: The Movie, Gosford Park)
Of course, I could always have Bert play Mr. Dawes, but why not give Mr. Thornton a chance? He's still alive, still active in film, television and the theatre. He's Captain Peacock, for Heaven's sake!

Who is He: Mr. Banks' immediate superior, the son of Mr. Dawes.

Originally played by:
Arthur Malet (Halloween, Hook)

My Choice:
Eric Sykes (Theatre of Blood, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
Get it? Because he's the same age as Frank Thornton? HAHAHA!

Who is She: The children's previous nanny, a very serious, stern woman who quits after they run off...yet again.
Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Come to the Stable, Witness for the Prosecution), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Witness for the Prosecution)
Elsa Lanchester (The Bride of Frankenstein, Murder by Death)

My Choice:
Joanna Lumley (James and the Giant Peach, Cold Comfort Farm)
Lumley can pull off that haughty, no-nonsense character when she's in the mood, and she's always a hoot.

Who is She: The cook, often at odds with the maid.

Originally played by:
Reta Shaw (Picnic, Escape to Witch Mountain)

My Choice:
Julia McKenzie ("Fresh Fields", Notes on a Scandal)

Who is She: The housemaid, often at odds with the cook.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress, BAFTA Award Nominee for Best British Actress (Room at the Top)
Hermione Baddeley (Scrooge, "Maude")

My Choice:
Elaine Paige (TV's Cats, TV's Marple: A Murder is Announced)

Who is He: An uncle of Mary's. He frequently gets into fits of laughter that cause him and his possessions to levitate. He can't help it; he just loves to laugh!

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Diary of Anne Frank), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Foreign Actor (The Great Man), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Great Man)
Ed Wynn (Cinderfella, That Darn Cat)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Iris), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Moulin Rouge), SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Iris) and Best Ensemble (Little Voice, Moulin Rouge)
Jim Broadbent (Arthur Christmas, The Iron Lady)
With his rotund physique, jolly laugh and passable vocals, Broadbent is the most obvious choice to take on Uncle Albert. And sometimes, the most obvious is the best.

Who is She: The mother of the Banks children. She adores her husband, though worries that he's too serious. She loves her children, but doesn't know how to deal with them. What she does know is that women deserve the right to vote. Mrs. Banks leads the suffragettes, inspiring her servants while still kow-towing to her husband.

Originally played by:Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (The Sundowners), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress - Drama (The Chapman Report)
Glynis Johns (The Ref, Superstar)

My Choice:
Rachael Stirling (TV's Tipping the Velvet, The Young Victoria)
Classy, funny, lovely, and a singer (like her talented mother, Diana Rigg). Stirling is one of those actresses that goes under-appreciated in the United States, but could really be effective with the right role. She would make the part her own without losing the original magic.

Who is He: The very serious patriarch of the Banks household. A bank manager, Mr. Banks is very proud of his work, keeping everything at home as exact and by the book as at the office. Banks may need to loosen up, but he is a gentle, caring man who is more befuddled by his children than angry or neglectful.
Originally played by: Hollmann Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Mary Poppins)
David Tomlinson (Tom Jones, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Jared Harris (Igby Goes Down, Lady in the Water)
I agonized over who could play this role more than I did Mary. Then, while watching "Mad Men", it suddenly hit me. Here's an actor who gets the comedy and the drama all at once, who can make a very serious suit into a loose, funny lover, who can present the flaws without passing judgment. Make it a Harris role.

Who is He: An old friend of Mary's, a new friend of the children's, a mischievous local who works as a busker, an artist, a chimney sweep... Bert is a fun-loving, all-around solid guy.
Originally played by: Hollmann Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor [Musical/Comedy] (Mary Poppins)
Dick Van Dyke (Cold Turkey, Night at the Museum)

My Choice:

Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
Oh, it's only a matter of time before he owns the world. Such a great actor, charming, boyish, yet adult.

Who is She: A magical nanny who keeps everything spit-spot, practically perfect in every way.

Originally played by: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actress (Mary Poppins, The Tamarind Seed), Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Mary Poppins), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best British Actress (The Sound of Music, The Americanization of Emily), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress - Musical/Comedy (Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, Victor/Victoria)
Julie Andrews (Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Princess Diaries)

My Choice:
Laura Michelle Kelly (TV's Marple: Nemesis, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
I wanted a relative unknown, pretty, old enough to be a commanding presence but young enough for the children to trust. She needed to be a great singer and, most importantly, have a presence. And I tried to find someone else, because Kelly has already won a Laurence Olivier Award for her playing this role on stage, but then...I mean, if she's already mastered it, why not give her the film role?

Best Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch
Best Actress: Laura Michelle Kelly
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Harris, Jim Broadbent
Best Supporting Actress: Rachael Stirling

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Casting Coup Week: My Fair Lady

I have a long relationship with My Fair Lady. I first saw it the summer before middle school, as research. There was a theatre day-camp I used to attend, and that year the show was the Lerner-Loewe classic. My grandparents insisted on renting the movie and letting me see the show for myself...and I was appalled. Who in the world could possibly like this film? The leading lady was shrill, the comic relief was odious, and the "hero" of the film was a snotty, mean-spirited jerk. And it was, like, three hours! Oh, what a miserable summer this was going to be.

I was already signed up for the camp, so I thought it best to grin and bear it. After all, I loved performing, and all my friends were at camp, and who knows? Now that I was older, more experienced, and in with the teachers, I could get the role I wanted most: Colonel Pickering, the only honorable member of the entire cast. I threw myself into the dialect lessons, mastering the bearing and speech of an upper-class English gentleman. My father got me to memorize the Pickering monologue I was using as an audition (they had different monologues for each character; you chose whichever  role you'd audition for). I even refused to revisit the film so that my audition was Walter Hollmann's Pickering, not Wilfrid Hyde-White's.

My mother and I would pray every morning before camp. Wanting Pickering but determined not to be too demanding, I asked God to give me a good long as it wasn't Higgins. After hearing my prayer a third or fourth day in a row, Mom looked up and said, "You know, maybe you shouldn't limit God's options." Ok, fine. So my final prayer before the last day of auditions was to just do well, and get a great part.

The day came when they announced the cast. They would gather the entire camp, aged 6 - 13, to hear it, making it the very last event on the last day of the first week. There were, like, 600 of us or something. Maybe not that much. Everything seems so much larger in memory. So let's say 1,000 people were gathered, as they went through the cast -- exactly as I'm doing it now, making their way down until only the trio were left. And the role of Colonel Pickering goes to -- Michael K.!

Well, my prayers went unanswered. I was proud for Mikey, a born showman who would later star in a Florida production of A Stoop on Orchard Street some years after its off-Broadway run. Oy, but I wanted that role so. I was proud, too, of Krystal, who was just announced for the role of Eliza. She was a quiet newcomer, a wallflower -- until she went up for music auditions and belted out "I Could Have Danced All Night" with a masterful soprano that would make Kiri Te Kanawa retire in defeat. Lord, even the music director looked up from the keyboard with bug-eyes. Here's to them. My friends. They deserve it.

"And as Henry Higgins -- Walter Hollmann."

See what happens when you adjust your prayers?

So in the two weeks leading up to the show itself, I learned my script, my songs (this abridged version cut out "I'm an Ordinary Man" and "Hymn to Him"), and the Embassy Waltz. And, of course, when I watched the film again after the show (I refused to let my Higgins become Rex Harrison)....I fell in love. Maybe I was too tired before? Maybe I just didn't get it, and doing the show allowed me to further understand the story. I'm sure playing Higgins helped. Anyway, it's now one of my all-time favorite films, and Higgins one of my favorite characters. Just last week I snapped at a venomous co-worker, "Claws in, you cat!" And we all remember how much I support Harrison's Oscar win.

Harrison's was just one of eight Oscar wins. Andre Previn's arrangement of Frederick Loewe's music won Best Adapted Score over such notable nominees as Mary Poppins and A Hard Day's Night. Cecil Beaton won for Costume Design - Color (yay!) and Art Direction - Color, leaving Becket, Mary Poppins and What a Way to Go! in the cold...except for their other Oscars. Well, not What a Way to Go!, but a fun movie that one is! And, of course, it won Cinematography (Harry Stradling), Director (George Cukor) and Best Picture of the Year. And Sound (George Groves).

My Fair Lady was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress - Gladys Cooper (lost to Lila Kedrova), Best Supporting Actor - Stanley Holloway (lost to Peter Ustinov), Best Adapted Screenplay (lost to Becket) and Best Editing (lost to Mary Poppins).

A couple years ago, it was announced that Emma Thompson was working on a screenplay for a remake of My Fair Lady. At the time, Keira Knightley was attached, and it seemed Daniel Day-Lewis may play Higgins. In this post-Nine world, DDL is out, Carey Mulligan is now attached  instead of Keira, and there's still been no word. I did some speculation about contenders for the roles, but only now can I offer a concrete Casting Coup. And there are many changed. All good, I think.

But surely, if one is to remake My Fair Lady, one could do a lot worse than this:

Who is She: Higgins' loyal housekeeper. Practical and unfazed by his nuttery.

Originally played by: BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Stevie)
Mona Washbourne (Night Must Fall, The Collector)

My Choice: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (My Week with Marilyn), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Wilde)
Zoe Wanamaker (Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, "Poirot: Cards on the Table")

Who is He: A handsome member of the upper class who falls in love with Eliza after her gaffe at Ascot.

Originally played by:
Jeremy Brett (War and Peace, "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes")

My Choice:
Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Woman in Black)
With paler-than-ivory good looks and proven skills at singing (and dancing!), the ex-Potter could neatly fill the role of the aristocratic love interest. Lord knows he has time now.

Who is She: Higgins' mother, who thinks her son can get tiresome. She offers Eliza a safe haven after she leaves Higgins.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Now, Voyager, The Song of Bernadette, My Fair Lady)
Gladys Cooper (Rebecca, The Happiest Millionaire)

My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) and Best Supporting Actress (California Suite), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actress (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, A Private Function, A Room with a View, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne) and Best Supporting Actress (Tea with Mussolini), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress - Musical/Comedy (California Suite) and Best Supporting Actress (A Room with a View), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Gosford Park)
Maggie Smith (The Pumpkin Eater, "Downton Abbey")
It was a toss-up between her and Dench for this role, but Smith, I think, is much better at making an insult go down warm. With her, it may tweak you, but it's not quite cruel -- just stating the facts. "You might stick to two subjects: the weather and your health." Smith would actually make it sound like advice, but with so straight a face you know what a bitch-slap you received.

Who is He: Eliza's father, supposedly a chimney-sweep. In practice, he's a drunk and a layabout, but he's at least aware of it. Higgins calls him "the most original moralist in England".

Originally played by: Academy Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (My Fair Lady)
Stanley Holloway (The Lavender Hill Mob, Ten Little Indians)

My Choice: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Zulu), Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Hannah and Her Sisters, The Cider House Rules)
Michael Caine (The Dark Knight, Is Anybody There?)
The rare actor to maintain his cockney accent while still getting the plum roles and a great career. Not the worst singer, and Alfred Doolittle is a role that only demands so much. He'd really be great fun.

Who is He: A dialectician, author of Spoken Sanskrit. Pays for Eliza's education in a bet with Higgins to pass her off as a lady at the Embassy Ball. A real father figure.

Originally played by: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (My Fair Lady)
Wilfrid Hyde-White (Ten Little Indians, Xanadu)

My Choice:
Ciaran Hinds (The Debt, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
He deserves it.

 Who is She: A flower girl who wants lessons from Higgins so that she can be an assistant in a proper florist's. Aha, but the bet between Higgins and Pickering makes her the modern Galatea to their Pygmalion, as she learns to drop her accent (bit rarely her manner) to pass as a Lady.

Originally played by: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actress (My Fair Lady), Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress [Drama] (Roman Holiday), BAFTA Award Winner for Best British Actress (Roman Holiday, The Nun's Story, Charade)
Audrey Hepburn (Love in the Afternoon, Breakfast at Tiffany's)

My Choice: BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (The Devil Wears Prada), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress - Drama (The Young Victoria)
Emily Blunt (The Muppets, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen)
Oh, man, this kind of just came to me. True, I don't know if she can do a Cockney accent, but I've always assumed she could since her American accent is so impeccable. She's good as accents, is what I'm saying. She sings, but is it the same sort of singing required for Eliza? I don't care about that right now. That's probably a bad thing, but there you are.

Who is He: An expert of dialects, a confirmed old bachelor and likely to remain so. Rarely does he consider the feelings of others, unless they become inconvenient to him. Little does he know how fond he is becoming of his pupil...

Originally played by: Hollmann Award Winner for Best Actor, Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor - Musical/Comedy, BAFTA Awards Nominee for Best British Actor (My Fair Lady)
Red Harrison (Anna and the King of Siam, The Honey Pot)

My Choice: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actor (A Single Man, The King's Speech) and Best Supporting Actor (Easy Virtue), Academy Award/Golden Globe/SAG Award Winner for Best Actor [Drama] (The King's Speech), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actor (A Single Man, The King's Speech), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Shakespeare in Love, The King's Speech)
Colin Firth (Fever Pitch, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
Yes, of course, another obvious choice, but run through Higgins' lines in Firth's voice. Heaven, isn't it? And he could be as dismissive as Harrison, but with more warmth. We'd get why Eliza stays.

Best Actor: Colin Firth
Best Actress: Emily Blunt
Best Supporting Actor: Ciaran Hinds, Michael Caine, Daniel Radcliffe
Best Supporting Actress: Maggie Smith, Zoe Wanamaker

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Casting Coup Week: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

My Retro Hollmanns were an accident. One day, The Godfather: Part 2 was on one of the movie channels, and I watched it because I'd never seen it. Then I saw that Lenny was on Netflix, and I watched it because I'd never seen it. Then I saw that such was the case with The Conversation, The Towering Inferno, Claudine...really, so much of '74 was available that I had to take a look back.

One of those films was also Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

So, in Alice, Ellen Burstyn plays Alice, whose husband Donald dies, leading her to take herself and her bratty kid on a road trip to Monterey so that she can pursue a singing career. She winds up staying in Tucson, a greasy spoon waitress trying to make enough to get back on her feet. While there, she winds up befriending tough-talking Flo and falling for rancher David. It's a character study, a romance, a comedy, all in one go. It won Oscars, inspired a hit sitcom, and solidified director Martin Scorsese's presence in the 70s film scene.

Burstyn made the film happen. After the success of The Exorcist, the studio allowed her to pick any script any wanted, with a director of her choice. She made the right choice, of course, and although Scorsese did not make it as far as the Oscars, writer Robert Getchell did, in the category of Original Screenplay. Neither he nor Supporting Actress nominee Diane Ladd won their categories, but Burstyn's triumph over Chinatown's Faye Dunaway and A Woman Under the Influence's Gena Rowlands was as unexpected as it was deserving. Ok, maybe not over Dunaway, but it's still one of the best performances of that year.

How then, could I possibly recast it? Well, it wasn't that easy. I kept considering and rejecting strong actresses like Charlize Theron and Amy Adams. I just couldn't see them filling Burstyn's shoes. Then, like the Voice of God, the name just popped into my head. Of course! And all I had to do was fill in the rest.

Here is the beginning of my post.

Who is He: Alice's first husband, not a warm guy, not supportive, doesn't like the kid. His sudden death prompts Alice's journey to pursue a singing career.

Originally played by:
Billy Green Bush (Five Easy Pieces, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor - Drama (Hustle & Flow), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Crash)
Terrence Howard (Ray, Red Tails)
The audience just wouldn't expect him to be a one-scene wonder, but he would establish with ease the character's distance from his family and less-than-active mind.

Who is He: A charming younger man who courts the flattered Alice for a little bit...until his wife turns up, leading Ben into a violent outburst.

Originally played by: Academy Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Bugsy)
Harvey Keitel (The Last Temptation of Christ, The Bad Lieutenant)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (The Hurt Locker)
Anthony Mackie (Night Catches Us, Real Steel)
Yeah, he's got the charm Ben would need to sell us and Alice on...himself. And Mackie, too, is a very fine actor who could play that sudden shift uncomfortably, believably.

Who is She: A waitress at Mel's, noted for her odd quiet, her emotional fragility, and those pigtails.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Original Screenplay (And Justice For All)
Valerie Curtin (All the President's Men, Down and Out in Beverly Hills)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Bobby)
Joy Bryant (Antwone Fisher, Baadasssss!)

Who is He: The chef and owner of Mel's, a roadside greasy spoon. Mel keeps the oddest people on staff, but he appreciates them as one big family. He really does love them, even as he argues with them.

Originally played by:
Vic Tayback (Loverboy, All Dogs Go to Heaven)

My Choice:
Terry Crews (The Expendables, Bridesmaids)
Very underrated comic actor. 

Who is He: A rancher frequenting Mel's diner who takes a shine to Alice. A warm, supportive presence who's also not afraid to help her with her shortcomings.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Song Score (Songwriter), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor - Musical/Comedy (A Star is Born)
Kris Kristofferson (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Blade)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (American Gangster)
Idris Elba (Prom Night, Thor)
Earthy, sexy, masculine -- such is the way of Elba, who can play big-hearted just as well as he can play authoritative.

Who is She: A tough-talking waitress with a foul mouth and an open heart. Winds up becoming Alice's great friend.

Originally played by: Academy Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Wild at Heart, Rambling Rose), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore)
Diane Ladd (Chinatown, Christmas Vacation)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Precious)
Sherri Shepherd (Beauty Shop, One for the Money)
Handy with the one-liners, her comic timing is always pitch-perfect. She stole One for the Money, and her scenes on "30 Rock" are among the best. 

Who is She: Our heroine! A widowed mum whose dream of a singing career is delayed by work and romance. Occasionally self-pitying, mule-headed, temperamental, and much too indulgent of her son, Alice is imperfect -- but who isn't? She's also honest, hard-working, passionate, protective, funny, resilient.

Originally played by: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actress (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore), Academy Award/BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actress (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress - Musical/Comedy (Same Time, Next Year), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actress (Requiem for a Dream) and Best Ensemble (How to Make an American Quilt)
Ellen Burstyn (The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, The Mighty Macs)

My Choice:
Kimberly Elise (John Q, The Manchurian Candidate)
An actress who has showed us time and again that she can play all sides of a woman and still have us rooting for her. Also, an actress who should be getting more lead roles than she's offered.

Best Actress: Kimberly Elise
Best Supporting Actor: Idris Elba, Terry Crews, Anthony Mackie
Best Supporting Actress: Sherri Shepherd