David Cronenberg's curdled Hollywood satire "Maps to the Stars" screened for press and industry types Thursday at the Toronto International Film Festival, a few days after Focus World acquired the movie for an early 2015 release.
The decision to punt to next year surprised some as the movie's standout cast member, Julianne Moore, won the actress prize at Cannes for her portrayal of a modern-day Norma Desmond making a desperate comeback bid.
Now comes news that the distributor might compete after all -- just not for the Oscars. Instead Focus World will dangle the film -- and Moore's gonzo performance -- for critics groups, the Screen Actors Guild and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., hoping they might respond to Cronenberg's movie.
One problem: "Maps to the Stars" isn't good. It's a dull, tired film, written nearly 20 years ago by Bruce Wagner, and feeling very much like something two decades removed from current times. The movie has no feel for Los Angeles or the industry itself and lazily directs its ire toward obvious targets -- Scientology, bratty child actors, New Age hucksters, Garry Marshall.
But in the middle of cheap jokes and Cronenberg's clinical, flat presentation is Moore, boldly going here, there and everywhere, providing the lone reason to watch. Moore plays Havana Segrand, a faded star angling for a prime role in a remake of a movie her actress mother starred in long ago, the same mother who's literally haunting Havana's every waking moment today.
Over the course of 112 minutes, Moore sings "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" after learning of the drowning death of a competing actress' son, unleashes an explosive tirade while sitting on the toilet and has sex with just about everyone she meets, including her limo driver (Robert Pattinson). It's a daring piece of acting, all the more remarkable for the way Moore grounds it in believability in a movie that's utterly ridiculous.
Do critics groups give awards to actors in bad movies? Yes. You need only look back to last year, when the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. named James Franco best supporting actor (in a tie with "Dallas Buyer Club's" Jared Leto) for Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers," a nihilistic broadside loved by some, considered vulgar "trash" by others. (Full disclosure: I belong to LAFCA. Full disclosure, part 2: I voted for Michael Fassbender for "12 Years a Slave.")
"Maps" revels in the same spirit of alienation as "Spring Breakers," so you'd expect that there might be some overlap of critical enthusiasm among aficionados of creepy, calculated outrage. But Moore never had a chance with academy voters, a reality that has more to do with the film's disappointing quality than voters' aversion to wallowing in self-loathing.