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The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

Foreign directors win over Hollywood

Posted: 02 Mar 2014 08:00 AM PST

Why do so many non-American directors win Oscars?

WHEN the best director Oscar winner is announced on March 3, chances are it will once again be a non-American – highlighting Hollywood's focus more than ever on global markets vital for box-office success.

Over the last 20 years, 11 winners of the best director Academy Award – arguably second in prestige to best picture at Tinsel-town's biggest annual show – have been from outside the United States.

And if Mexican Alfonso Cuarón wins the coveted prize for space thriller Gravity, as many predict, he will be the fourth non-American in a row to win in the category.

The same would be true for fellow front-runner Steve McQueen, the British filmmaker behind 12 Years A Slave, a best picture front-runner.

They would follow Briton Tom Hooper for The King's Speech in 2011, Frenchman Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist in 2012 and Taiwan-born Ang Lee for Life Of Pi last year.

The success of foreign directors in Tinseltown is in fact nothing new – it's been a constant since the 1920s, when Germans Ernst Lubitsch and F.W. Murnau settled in the United States.

Life Of Pi won Ang Lee the Best Director award at the Oscar last year.

Life Of Pi won Ang Lee the Best Director award at the Oscar last year.

"We've always had lots of British directors. Alfred Hitchcock is just one of many and there's always been an exchange between British cinema and American cinema," film historian Jonathan Kuntz told AFP.

"And then of course, depending on world circumstances, we had a lot of filmmakers driven to the US. Of course the Nazis drove most of the good filmmakers out of Europe."

Kuntz, an associate professor at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), added: "Then, Eastern Europe during the 60s and 70s – a lot of filmmakers fled from there essentially, (Milos) Forman, (Roman) Polanski and many ended up in Hollywood."

But experts say the wave of foreign filmmakers pouring into Hollywood since the turn of the millennium is above all motivated by the changing economic model of movie studios.

"Fifty years ago, the industry was making roughly 70% of its revenue on domestic sales. Now, 80% is coming on foreign sales and only 20% is domestic sales," said history professor Steve Ross.

"So part of the reason, I think, they are going for foreign directors is also to appeal to their new base, who is a foreign base," the University of Southern California (USC) academic told AFP.        

Laura Isabel Serna, assistant professor at USC's School of Cinematic Arts, added: "This is part of Hollywood's global marketing strategy that encourages audience identification with 'their' directors or actors.

"What is interesting is that, whereas in the past Hollywood has turned to Europe, studios are increasingly turning to other parts of the world as well, which is a testament to the vibrancy of film production in places like Latin America."

But while European, Asian or Latin American filmmakers are welcomed here for their "sensibility," studios don't want them to bring too much of their own national perspective to the screen.

"American directors know what American audiences want, but a foreign director coming in is going to have a sensibility that has to appeal to a larger audience," said Ross.

In most cases it works fine: Gravity, written by Cuarón and his son Jonas, has made over US$700mil (RM2.3bil) at the global box office. His compatriot Guillermo Del Toro earned nearly US$410mil (RM1.3bil) last year with sci-fi blockbuster Pacific Rim.

"Del Toro is an amazing guy," said Kuntz.

"He's Mexican through and through and at the same time he grew up on American pop culture, he's obsessed with it, clearly. He knows American pop culture better than almost any American.

"And the kind of filmmaking he does – horror, science-fiction and genre – that's something Hollywood loves also. He seems to fit right into the system."

Cuaron "is a great artist," he added. "This is one of the great cinema masters of the world right now. You have to admire his accomplishment."

Ultimately though, the only real common denominator between filmmakers who succeeded in Hollywood in cinema's golden age, the 1970s and those of the 21st century, is commercial success, said Ross.

"The bottom line in Hollywood is always the bottom line, the profit," he said, stressing, "The ultimate aim of the studios is to bring in personnel who can expand their markets and increase their profits."

"Now if these foreign directors were making films that didn't make money, believe me, they'd go back to American directors again," he added. – AFP

French arthouse filmmaker Alain Resnais dies aged 91

Posted: 02 Mar 2014 06:25 PM PST

He was much-loved figure of French film world.

FRENCH arthouse filmmaker Alain Resnais, a star of the New Wave movement with close to 50 movies to his name, has died aged 91, his producer told AFP on March 2.

Resnais, whose play-within-a-film Life of Riley (Aimer, boire et chanter) won a prize for innovation at the Berlin Film Festival last month, died in Paris late on March 1 "surrounded by his family," said his producer Jean-Louis Livi.

With a shock of wiry white hair and trademark dark shades, Resnais was a much-loved figure of the French film world and a regular presence at top festivals from Cannes to Berlin.

France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, paid tribute to "a very great talent, universally known".

Resnais's first slot at the Cannes Film Festival was for the New Wave classic Hiroshima Mon Amour, screened out of competition in 1959.

Still making movies as he reached 90 – with recurring themes of love, memory and mortality – he told Cannes two years ago he made films "for myself, like DIY".

"It's like a laboratory experiment in which you mix things without knowing what the result will be."

At the time of his death, he was working on the script for a new film, according to Livi, who produced his most recent works.

Born on June 3, 1922 in the western city of Vannes, Resnais made a short film on the storybook villain Fantomas at the tender age of 13.

Riding the crest of the French New Wave of the 1960s, he stood slightly apart from his contemporaries Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette and François Truffaut.

While they filmed young Parisians in the streets with hand-held cameras, Resnais played with narrative "flash-ins" that mingled past and present.

His early features like Hiroshima mon Amour and L'Annee Derniere a Marienbad (1961) drew on the work of modernist French authors Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet.

From the 1970s onwards, Resnais' films became lighter and more accessible, and his quasi-musical On Connait la Chanson (The Same Old Song, 1998) was a huge commercial and critical success.

But he remained one of the most experimental French filmmakers, with often-present themes on fractured time and parallel worlds.

The Cannes festival awarded him a lifetime achievement award in 2009.

Resnais married twice, and is survived by his second wife, Sabine Azema. – AFP Relaxnews

What a coup for Bradley Cooper

Posted: 02 Mar 2014 08:00 AM PST

Life's good for former hotel doorman Bradley Cooper.

Whoa, double take. In his latest movie, the 1970s crime caper American Hustle, Bradley Cooper is near-unrecognisable, his matinee idol looks sacrificed on the altar of character acting. He's a veritable refugee from Studio 54 in double-wide lapels, flared trousers, a Robin Gibb beard and Toni-home-permanent pin curls.

It's the latest step in a midcareer makeover that has catapulted Cooper, 38, from throwaway films like The A-Team to the A-list, front and centre in the vanguard of a new generation of leading men.

Cooper's dashing good looks led to years of typecasting as cocky cads (notably the conceited, adulterous hothead in Wedding Crashers) and generic boyfriends. Remember him in He's Just Not That Into You? Neither does anyone else. The Hangover series earned hundreds of millions of dollars and made Cooper a bona fide megastar, but it was not much of a showcase for his abilities.

"It wasn't even until Silver Linings Playbook that I realised how many people didn't think I was an actor," Cooper said in a recent phone interview. "Maybe I, like Richie DiMaso," the befuddled FBI man he plays in Hustle, "was in a bit of a delusion."

More likely, the people who underestimated Cooper were wrong. In 2012's Silver Linings Playbook he played a manic depressive who assaults his wife's lover, then moves in with his parents after months in a mental hospital. His performance, which turned this borderline psycho into a lovable romantic mutt, earned Cooper a best actor Oscar nomination.

In Hustle, Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Robert De Niro play schemers double-crossing their way through a back-stabby scheme inspired by the Abscam scandal. In that 1978 sting operation, federal agents busted politicians who accepted bribes from an actor playing a Mideast sheik.

Cooper's character is an FBI operative who cons two con artists into working for him. The gullible lawman soon finds himself in over his head strategically, ethically and romantically. Cooper and Russell made it their main goal to demolish the stock character of the FBI antagonist in their delirious crime story.

"We wanted to reinvent that archetype completely," Cooper said. "We wanted Richie to be almost as colourful as the Irving character" – a whiny, tubby swindler played by Christian Bale, wearing a Donald Trump comb-over and packing a Santa Claus paunch. Irving's scams include keeping a fake-English mistress (Adams) under the radar of his wife (Lawrence). For a while, anyway. The film morphs into a screwball love story, with the conniving players switching sides faster than a flipped coin.

Cooper calls Russell, who co-wrote the script, an "idiosyncratic," hard-charging filmmaker who treats his projects like all-in sports contests. Every aspect of the characters was thought out in detail, down to the point that the boyish Richie is never seen with his tie properly tied until a smoother character gives him a makeover.

"It was very fun to dive into these characters and see who could they be," Cooper said. "My heart goes out to all of them, especially Richie. There's nothing like watching somebody lose their innocence. It's my job as an actor to make that fresh and personal."

Boyfriend material: Bradley Cooper's dashing good looks led to years of typecasting as cocky cads and
generic boyfriends.

Russell favours colourful, contradictory characters over clear-cut plot lines, and shouted on-the-spot brainwaves to his cast in mid-scene.

"He was rewriting while the cameras were rolling, a process that's unique," Cooper said. "No one really knows what's happening but him. I love it because it gets you out of your head. It makes things easier, because it just forces you to react."

Cooper's father, a Philadelphia stockbroker, wasn't convinced that an acting career was a sound business plan for his son. Cooper had his own moments of doubt.

In 1999, when he was 23, he worked as a doorman on the graveyard shift at the fashionable Morgan Hotel in New York City.

"One of the guys I took to their rooms was Leonardo DiCaprio," fresh off his superstar turn in Titanic, Cooper said.

"I remember riding down on the elevator after I showed him and about seven of his friends their room. I was wearing the uniform, not a hip look. I remembered reading recently that he and I were exactly the same age. I went down in the elevator thinking I had been four feet from the guy and we couldn't be in two more different worlds. He was my age and he had accomplished so much."

Flash forward: Now DiCaprio and Cooper are good friends, attending last year's Super Bowl together. "It's a crazy business," Cooper said.

It sure is. Next year, Cooper will become a figure in the Marvel superhero universe, but with a lunatic twist.

In Guardians Of The Galaxy, he plays pint-size Rocket Raccoon, a gun-slinging, genetically manipulated critter with an advanced intellect and humanoid properties. He's working with director James Gunn to perfect the militant little furball's sound. (A tough Cockney accent is under consideration.) Cooper is also working out the digitally rendered creature's body language, acting out his scenes in a bodysuit as motion-capture cameras record his performance.

"We're right in the middle of it, but I can say he's a pretty volatile guy." Playing a wisecracking extraterrestrial ringtail might seem like a pretty big stretch, but so far underestimating Cooper has been a bad bet. – Star Tribune/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

American Hustle is currently playing in selected cinemas nationwide.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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