“12 Years a Slave” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” earned a total of seven nominations Wednesday for the 20th Screen Actors Guild Awards, solidifying their status as front-runners as the road to Oscar gold begins in earnest.
The films are hallmarks of an extraordinary year for black cinema, rich with critical acclaim and box-office success, and Wednesday’s nominations could signal more accolades to come – and perhaps even Academy Award recognition.
The SAG Awards, one of the leading Oscar bellwethers, honored “12 Years a Slave” with four nominations – more than any other film. The unflinching portrayal of slavery in early America earned a nod for best ensemble cast – the SAG Awards equivalent of best picture. There were nominations as well for male actor in a leading role for Chiwetel Ejiofor and supporting nods for Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o.
A spiteful, drug-addicted matriarch with mouth cancer can't find her husband. A folk singer has nowhere to sleep and few paying gigs. A depressive alcoholic thinks he's won some money, but he hasn't.
If these plots don't sound comical, well, you must not have a flexible enough funny bone.
Several films currently or soon to be in theaters stretch the definition of comedy, straddling humor and drama in a fashion rare to see in today's Hollywood movies, where stories typically fall into neat, salable categories.
"I tell people it's a screwball tragedy," said Oscar Isaac, who plays the title character in Joel and Ethan Coen's "Inside Llewyn Davis," a movie about not making it in the 1961 New York folk music scene. "When I first read the script I thought, 'Why am I laughing at someone trying to survive, someone struggling like this? Is it because I'm sadistic, or because I'm relieved it's not me?'"
Tragi-comedies like John Wells' adaptation of Tracy...
For writer-director David O. Russell, getting the music just right is a huge part of making movies. One testament to his dedication is that he has repeatedly requested to license songs from the notoriously picky rock band Led Zeppelin — and succeeded.
"Good Times, Bad Times," the first track from Zeppelin's self-titled debut album, had never been licensed for a movie before Russell used it in "The Fighter" — "much to my glee," he recalled during a recent installment of the Envelope Screening Series, at which he discussed the importance of music in his films, including his latest, "American Hustle."
Russell was joined by "American Hustle" editor Jay Cassidy, who also worked on Russell's previous film, "Silver Linings Playbook." That film featured another Zeppelin song, "What Is and What Should Never Be." Cassidy recalled, "Once that song was put on the table, we recut the scene to fit the song."
Writer-director David O. Russell sweats the details. For "American Hustle," his new film loosely based on the FBI's Abscam sting investigating political corruption in the 1970s, that meant mulling everything "from the clothes to the comb over." But that doesn't mean he's a slave to history.
Speaking at the Envelope Screening Series, Russell talked about how he drew inspiration from the true Abscam story but then used it to tell his own story, one that was emotionally honest if not always historically accurate.
"I don't think of making a period movie," Russell said. "People say, 'Oh, you captured the period,' or they go, 'Oh, you captured Lowell, Mass.,' or 'You captured Philly.' We never, per se, set out to do that. Or I'd never say 'The Fighter' is a boxing movie or ['Silver Linings Playbook'] is a romantic comedy. I would never in a million years think those things."
Actor-director Ralph Fiennes goes deep into the role of Charles Dickens in the new biopic "The Invisible Woman," which dramatizes the iconic author's love affair with young actress Nelly Ternan while at the height of his fame. You could reasonably imagine Fiennes being a lifelong devotee of Dickens -- but you would be dead wrong.
Speaking at the Envelope Screening Series along with co-star Felicity Jones and Times reporter Glenn Whipp, Fiennes admitted that he was a Dickens novice before getting involved in the film.
"This script kind of ambushed me," he said. After directing his first film, an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" which he also starred in, Fiennes was offered the script for "Invisible Woman."
"You may be surprised, but I never studied Dickens at school," Fiennes said. "Lots of Shakespeare and other novelists, but not Dickens. So I was pretty ignorant. But I read the script and then the book on...
It seemed like the right place to meet: the Polo Lounge, home of the power lunch for Hollywood's elite. But when Paul Walker and first-time director Eric Heisserer showed up at the Beverly Hills Hotel haunt in 2011, they quickly felt out of place among the sea of suited studio executives picking at elaborate bread baskets.
"Both of us were a little awkward," recalled Heisserer. "We ordered beer."
Perhaps the setting should have felt more natural to Walker — after all, he'd made millions from starring in the "Fast and the Furious" franchise and had certainly been to his fair share of stuffy meetings after a decade in the business.
But the actor, who was killed in a November car accident at age 40, was never comfortable with the trappings of movie stardom. He opted to live far from 90210 in Santa Barbara, raising his teenage daughter, Meadow. An adrenaline junkie, he spent his free time racing cars and tagging great white sharks. And he disliked...
"I broke her down and had her do it again and again, saying 'Go deeper, go deeper,' until she was worn out emotionally. Then I asked how she felt, and she said she understood that [an abusive slave owner] could take her body but not her soul, and she started to cry."
Casting director Francine Maisler is describing her quest to put together five minutes of audition tape that would persuade director Steve McQueen that Lupita Nyong'o, an unknown actress, had what it took to embody Patsey, a field worker who obsesses a monstrous plantation owner (Michael Fassbinder) in "12 Years a Slave."
The search had been long, and McQueen was thousands of miles away on location in Louisiana. "He had to know that this person could go to the emotional places the character needed to go," Maisler says about Nyong'o, a Mexico-born, Kenya-raised,Yale-trained newcomer who'd impressed her in a Los Angeles showcase the night before. "I told her, 'I'm going to do some things that are not conventional in this...