THE bookies are focusing their minds on the Academy Awards now that critics on both sides of the US have spoken.
The New York Film Critics Circle named the bloody thriller No Country for Old Men best film, and give best direction honours to brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. The NYFCC’s counterpart in Los Angeles opted for Paul Thomas Anderson’s intense period drama There Will Be Blood. Anderson also won best director. Critics in Boston and Washington DC have also named No Country for Old Men as their favourite. The New Yorkers gave the best actress award to Julie Christie for her role as a woman with Alzheimer’s disease in Away From Her, while LA crowned Marion Cotillard best actress for her performance as tortured French songbird Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. There was no disagreement between the two cities on best actor: Briton Daniel Day-Lewis won for his role as a turn-of-the-century prospector in Texas in There Will Be Blood.
IT is beyond Reel Time’s comprehension that none of the critics gave an honour to Tommy Lee Jones: he is one of the best things about No Country for Old Men. Jones’s character is one of a trio of compelling characters in this bloody thriller adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s book of the same name. Jones plays salt-of-the-earth sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who is investigating a drug-related massacre in the barren Texas landscape. It is not unusual for Jones to give a mesmerising performance, or to play the strong, silent, resilient type. But there’s an added complexity to his character here: he can’t quite come to terms with the new kind of lawlessness that the drug trade has brought to the wild west, and it has given him a vulnerable edge. The other two leads are also terrific: Javier Bardem as a sinister, unstoppable drug lord, and Josh Brolin as the hometown boy in too deep. It opens on Boxing Day.
IN the US television series Without a Trace, Anthony LaPaglia plays agent Jack Malone, head of the FBI missing person’s unit in New York. In the planned Australian psychological thriller Strangerland, LaPaglia will be on the other side of the fence, as a chemist who comes under scrutiny after he and his family move to the country and his daughter goes missing. LaPaglia says Hugo Weaving is tipped for the role of the police officer investigating the matter. Strangerland is to be directed by Kim Farrant, who made the fascinating documentary Naked on the Inside, in which people discuss their attitudes to their bodies. LaPaglia, who was born in Adelaide, has been living in Los Angeles for 25 years and is on an unexpected break because of the writers’ strike. This enabled him and his wife Gia Carides to attend last week’s AFI Awards and meet the producers of LaPaglia’s other planned Australian film, Balibo, and his beloved A-League soccer team Sydney FC. His contract on Without a Trace has two years to go, which will bring him up to eight years of service. He says he is unlikely to renew: "After the series is over I would like to go to New York and do some theatre, which is where I began."
PRODUCER John Maynard has been getting good media mileage from his comment at the AFI Awards that best film winner Romulus, My Father would make a good Christmas present. He is one of the few Australian producers who also distributes his own films, so has more to gain than most from the DVD sales. It was also strategic of him to suggest that people buy the film, rather than rent it, to watch on Christmas Day once the dishwasher is on and the wrapping paper folded away: although producers get a cut from the sale of DVDs intended for rental, there is no further return, whether the DVD is rented once or 40,000 times. The best-film award was shared with Maynard’s business partner Robert Connolly, who says the attention Romulus got from the AFI helped secure the sale of US rights. Distributor Magnolia saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival but signed to buy the US rights only when the AFI nominations were announced. "Some people think awards are a bit frivolous but I think they are of real value," says Connolly.
WHEN the AFI winner for direction and screenplay, Tony Ayres, was in post-production for The Home Song Stories he sighed a lot and said he was never going to make a tough drama again. Apparently the events that followed those depicted in his autobiographical film were no less dramatic, and he is not remotely tempted to recount them on film, not yet, anyway. Instead he is writing a comedy about six actresses who go for the same role. It is called, surprise surprise, The Actresses. Reel Time wonders if Joan Chen will be one of them. She and Ayres are obviously well matched: she has won best actress for her performance as Ayres’s fictionalised mother at the AFIs, the Inside Film Awards, the Turin International Film Festival in Italy and the Golden Horse Awards, held on Saturday night in Taipei.