Director’s Guild Award Nominations Fall Short

Well, the Director’s Guild nominations have come in, and they’ve proved to be entirely predictable. Not a surprise in the house. And that isn’t to say the directors nominated aren’t deserving and that their films don’t merit acclaim but come on, there are so many brilliant films being made and so many talented people at work, that although awards don’t mean everything, it’s just slightly disheartening to see the scope of praise be so narrow.

The nominees are:
Ben Affleck, Argo
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

But aren’t we missing something? Sure, Django Unchained could have been about 40 minutes shorter, but Quentin Tarantino most definitely deserves accolades for his cinematic achievements. He knows how to craft something that’s universally entertaining while always staying true to his heavily-rooted obsessions and idiosyncrasies as a filmmaker, while coining his own take on an old genre. And what about David O. Russell? Silver Linings Playbook was a heartfelt and challenging film, and if we’re talking purely of directorial skill, he managed to get incredibly nuanced, passionate, and sincere performances out of his actors while crafting something wonderfully enjoyable. Um, not to mention P.T. Anderson for The Master, which was basically a master class on how to direct your actors and build a mise en scène.

I’m hoping the Academy Award nominations will provide a bit more excitement in terms of choices, but that’s always a toss up. The Director’s Guild Award winners will be announcement on Saturday, February 2nd at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland.

‘Les Misérables’ and the End of the Movie Musical

I love musicals. I (mostly) can’t get enough of them! I realize that they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but, then again, I’m not particularly fond of sci-fi or fantasy films, so, to each their own! But I think it’s time to come down hard on the new wave of musical movies that have managed to shimmy their way onto the big screen in the last decade. Yes, Les Misérables, you have put the final nail in the coffin of this dying genre.

Here’s the thing about Les Misérables: even the show itself is not that great. It was part of the new wave of musical theater in the ’80s in which spectacle took precedence over good writing. As a friend told me recently, “Les Misérables is so dull and boring that they had to put a giant turntable in the middle of the stage just to keep people awake.” I’d like to blame the British for this, particularly producer Cameron Mackintosh who, like Andrew Lloyd Webber, turned Broadway into a string of poperas with tolerable music intermittently coming from an orchestra pit filled with cellists and violinists who were scared for their lives as explosions and fire pits and chandeliers crashed above them on the stage.

So now it’s on film, and it is bad. Well, it’s fine. It’s just fine! For every good part of the film (Anne Hathaway, the sets, the costumes), there’s a lot of bad (Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, the direction, the cinematography, the CGI butterfly that director Tom Hooper seemed to think we would want to see as much as we’d like to hear Anne Hathaway’s sobs and dry-heaves during “I Dreamed a Dream”). It’s another example, of course, of the modern movie musical: overblown, overwrought, stuffed with moderately talented actors who, if not Autotuned, sound like they’re doing karaoke, and lacking any sort of levity and, well, fun.

But do movie musicals even work anymore? Perhaps they could, if only directors stopped trying to “turn the genre on its head.” The greatest movie musicals are, generally, joyous and and massive experiences: Singin’ in the Rain, The Music Man, West Side Story, The Sound of Music (which I begrudgingly include, as all of Rogers and Hammerstein’s catalog makes me want to rip off my own ears), Fiddler on the Roof, Oliver. In most cases, these great films were not somber occasions. Sure, a few of them have unhappy endings (for example, the exodus from Anatevka isn’t exactly cheery), but for the most part even a movie featuring singing Nazis can manage to leave an audience member in a good mood.

But remember in the ’90s when Evita was primed to bring back the movie musical? Madonna, who can sing and dance, couldn’t even make a melodramatic stage musical into a movie that wasn’t completely dull and dour. And then there were Chicago and Moulin Rouge, which are essentially musicals for people who hate musicals and, thusly, not to be respected. The former relied heavily on editing to give the illusion that its cast (other than Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is herself a seasoned stage actress) could dance, while the latter picked up on Broadway’s lead and just stuffed a bunch of already-popular songs into a musical narrative, because that way average moviegoers could say, “I know that song! And I know that song!” (This is why Glee is so popular and also so cloying.) I’m still blown away that even fans of musicals have accepted Chicago as a good film, even though it painfully pales in comparison to the postmodern anti-musicals Cabaret and All That Jazz, both of which take the conceit of putting all of the musical numbers onto a stage setting so that it’s not as jarring to the viewer. But Rob Marshall is no Bob Fosse, which I think the insufferably bad Nine proved just a few years after Chicago won Best Picture.

But as long as Broadway moves toward “serious” (read: somber) musicals, Hollywood will continue to adapt the crowd-pleasing shows into sub-par films. Tom Hooper, bless him, did his best with Les Misérables, and while I respect his decision to have his actors sing live, it mostly proved distracting. It’s one thing to see a natural singing performance on film, which is usually hindered by dubbing. But the singing should be pretty; it’s pretty much the foundation of musical theater. The sad fact is that it’s going to be pretty hard to get a good performer to be in a big-budget movie musical, because good performers are not famous enough to carry a film. If that were the case, we would not have seen (and heard) Russell Crowe desperately warbling through Javert’s numbers. Crowe himself defended Hooper’s vision, saying that he “wanted it raw and real.” But musicals are not real, because people do not burst into song accompanied by a soaring orchestra.

So what’s wrong with the movie musical? Well, we can blame it on a lot of things. The subject matter is too serious for an audience to suspend belief and accept that those sad characters would express themselves in light-hearted tunes. The Hollywood system has weeded out great talent, leaving the crop of A-list actors without the abilities to hit notes and land dance moves. Genre films aren’t respectable, so directors now eschew specific conventions for middle-of-the-road tactics to please as many audiences as possible. And we can’t forget the audiences themselves, whose attention span and gradual distaste for musical theater conventions have encouraged the demise of the genre. The bottom line is this: it may just be time that we accept the musical as a dying animal, and put it out of its misery rather than making it tap dance and fan-kick for our own entertainment. 

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New Trailer for ‘Les Misérables,’ In Which We Hear A Song That Isn’t “I Dreamed A Dream”

You’re probably still weeping over the first trailer for the upcoming Tom Hooper-helmed Les Misérables feelings extravaganza, which dropped earlier this year and featured a devastating rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream" from Anne Hathaway. You may have even watched that trailer on repeat several dozen times upon first viewing, which is totally okay because we did too. But pretty much every piece of promotional material about the movie since has mostly hinged on that "I Dreamed A Dream," which is great, but that’s one number out of many that make up the musical. Well, in the new UK trailer, we get some new numbers, new scenes and an even more crushing "I Dreamed A Dream," all which feed into the hype, but with at least one caveat.

Anne Hathaway still breaks your heart, "One Day More" still stirs and most of the principal cast looks pretty solid, and we get our first glimpse of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thénardiers (the latter in the middle of "Master of the House"), which is just gonna be the greatest. But one of the bigger nagging questions about the film has been the casting choice of Russell Crowe as Javert, who gets two of, like, the best musical numbers in the whole show and requires great complexity and nuance. Crowe can act, certainly, but can he sing, or at least, deliver as Javert? As we feared before the first footage even hit the web, Russell Crowe opens his mouth, and, uh, it’s not great. Maybe Tom Hooper is just tantalizing us and he actually brings down the house with "Stars," but for now, it looks like Crowe’s Javert will be a lot of shouting and uninspired, almost nervous-sounding vocals. Woof. The rest of it looks pretty great though—it’s hard not to get excited about the barricade scenes, especially with a good round of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" thrown in for good measure. Watch. 

Dreaming Dreams of Time Gone By With More ‘Les Misérables’ Footage

Recovering high school theatre geeks are aflutter once again with the release this week of a Regal Cinemas interview featuring more footage from Tom Hooper’s upcoming adaptation of Les Misérables. Hooper and the cast seem particularly excited about the fact that they’re doin’ it live—unlike traditional movie musicals, which rely on a prerecorded soundtrack and lip-synching, the actors sing with a piano piped into an earpiece, allowing for them to dictate the pace and delivery along with their acting and character development and what-have-you. Basically, it’ll be like a stage musical except with more familiar names and you have to sit through half an hour of advertisements before. 

We hear several of the cast members sing for the first time, including a swelling "On My Own" from West End veteran Samantha Barks as Éponine, a rather high-pitched but very enthusiastic Amanda Seyfried as Adult Cosette and some serious moments of serious ACTING! from leading man Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. There is, however, a serious lack of Russell Crowe as Javert, leaving us with some questions. Crowe can certainly act as the stone-faced lawman, but can he break from his 30 Odd Foot of Grunts past and give us one hell of a "Stars?" That’s gonna be the dealmaker/breaker of this movie. 

And, of course, the first voice we heard in the initial trailer released several months ago, Anne Hathaway, sounds off on some of her choices as Fantine, most notably choosing to sing "I Dreamed A Dream," normally a belter of a production number that sometimes wins regional talent competitions, in a manner that a desperate and defeated person slowly dying of tuberculosis actually probably would. 

"There seemed to be something selfish about trying to go for ‘the pretty version,’" Hathaway tells the viewers. "She’s devastated. She’s literally at the bottom of a hole, looking up and realizing she’s never going to climb out of this. So I just decided to apply the truth to the melody and see what would happen." 

And then her version of "I Dreamed A Dream" kicks in, with all its beautiful but brutal notes, and with it (for some of you) come your plans to abandon family Christmas dinner to go ugly-cry in a theater for four hours. Watch below — we’ll still be here when you’re done having a moment. 

First Look at the ‘Les Misérables’ Movie (and Anne Hathaway’s Crash Diet Results)

Hang on to your straw fedoras, gay guys and 14-year-old girls, because the first official trailer for Tom Hooper’s big-screen adaptation of Les Misérables, the most spirited musical telling of poor French people in the history of Broadway, is finally online! And everyone’s here! Hugh Jackman! Russell Crowe! Emaciated Anne Hathaway! Amanda Seyfried! That guy from Savage Grace (J/K, no one saw Savage Grace) who kind of looks like a snake! Everyone but Taylor Swift, thank God. (Remember when we were all worried that Taylor Swift was going to be in Les Mis? We dodged a bullet there.)

I’ve got to say, this one gives me chills? I’ve been Team Hathaway since Rachel Getting Married, even if a friend of mine was correct in her description that Anne Hathaway looks like someone Photoshopped her face on a head that was slightly too small for it. But she’s got some spunk, and she can sing "I Dreamed a Dream" as good as any other woman who has played the role of the most kind-hearted prostitute in French literature. (Yes, even you, Patti LuPone.) It appears as if her crazy diet also worked out! While we don’t get to hear anyone else sing (I’m kind of curious to see how much growling Russell Crowe will pass off as "singing"), the movie looks lush while still depicting the shitty life of 19th century Parisians. Oh, yeah, and barricades? Has anyone ever understood what they were fighting about? I’ve seen it twice and I’m still too swept up by "On My Own" to give a shit about post-revolutionary politics. Snooze!