Going into Monday night’s Gotham Awards, “Carol” is the most celebrated, raved-about and nominated independent film of the year.
So why does it still feel like something of an underdog this awards season, particularly when it comes to the Oscars?
You can partly chalk it up to the film’s subtlety and understatement, which are sadly not qualities that register with voters very often. And you can add a sobering and surprising statistic about two of the indie icons who helped make the exquisite, ’50s-set romance: Todd Haynes has never been nominated for an Oscar for directing, and Christine Vachon has never been nominated in any category.
At a time when independent films routinely dominate the Oscars, when “Birdman” can go from the Gothams to the Spirit Awards to the Oscars and win all three, it’s unfortunate that two of the most respected figures in the indie world could have been shut out by the Academy — and troubling that they shouldn’t be slam-dunk contenders for a film as elegant and moving as “Carol.”
The film is up for three Gothams, including Best Feature, Best Screenplay and Best Actress (Cate Blanchett). It led all films in nominations for the other major independent-film award, the Film Independent Spirit Awards, with six nods that included feature, director and actress for both Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
It is also one of the best-reviewed films of the year, with a score of 94 on Metacritic, topping every narrative film except the animated “Anomalisa.” And in the recent Sight and Sound listing of the year’s 20 best movies, it came in at No. 2, behind only Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “The Assassin.”
The raves have been steady since the Weinstein Company film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival — but in a year with a surprising abundance of films built around female protagonists (“Brooklyn,” “Joy,” “Room”), the quietest and subtlest film of the batch is also a quiet voice during awards season, with fellow indies “Spotlight” and “Room” landing higher in most pundits’ predictions.
“It’s not going to be for every filmgoer — especially today, when people’s attentions are easily diverted,” Haynes admitted to TheWrap in a recent interview. “And when there is consensus around something, people want to take it down a peg. That’ll happen, if it hasn’t already.”
Still, “Carol” has done well under the Weinstein Company’s quiet rollout strategy, which is similar to the way the company launched Oscar winners “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist.” It opened on Nov. 20 in four theaters to a strong $63,378 per-screen average, and dropped less than 20 percent in its second weekend. It will not expand to additional theaters until Dec. 11.
The film is likely to figure in critics’ awards, which will begin to be announced this week with the New York Film Critics Circle on Wednesday and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, among others, on Sunday. (The National Board of Review, which is not a critics’ group, will make its announcement on Tuesday.)
But first come the New York-based Gotham Awards, where “Spotlight” is a formidable competitor and “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” led all films in nominations with four in the seven competitive categories.
Haynes has never received an award at the Gothams, and “I’m Not There” is the only one of his films to get a nomination.
To be fair, though the Gothams concentrated on breakthrough performances and films for most of its 24 years, so Haynes was too established to be in the running for many of those years. This year he will be the recipient of a Gothams tribute to his entire career.
He has also won the Sundance jury prize for “Poison,” a Cannes jury award for “Velvet Goldmine,” an Oscar screenplay nomination for “Far From Heaven,” three Emmy nominations for “Mildred Pierce” and Spirit Award directing nominations for every film he’s ever released — as well as a reputation as one of the true auteurs of the indie movement, which has drawn actresses like Blanchett to work with him.
“[‘Carol’] was made on a shoestring, with no artistic compromises made,” said the Oscar-winning actress, who previously worked with Haynes on “I’m Not There.” “Somehow Todd makes these extraordinary beasts of films, unusual and particular. I marvel at how he does that.”
Vachon, meanwhile, has produced all of Haynes’ films, as well as “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Still Alice,” “Kids,” “I Shot Andy Warhol,” “Happiness” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” — and she’s received honors from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review, as well as a special Gotham Award in 1999.
Both she and Haynes should end up at the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 28. But first they have to navigate the rocky roads of awards season, starting with the Gothams tonight and the critics’ awards later in the week.
Sundance Selects has acquired the North American and Latin American rights to Alexandre Moors’ "Blue Caprice," the company announced on Tuesday.
Moors' directorial debut investigates the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks from the point of view of the two killers, John Allen Muhammad and 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo.
Isaiah Washington stars as Muhammad; Tequan Richmond plays Malvo.
The drama, set to open Film Society of Lincoln Center and MOMA’s 2013 New Directors/New Films Festival later this month, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
April Yvette Thompson, who has a brief part as Malvo’s mother, summarized the film's hypothesis by telling the audience at Sundance that "killers aren’t born, they’re made."
R.F.I. Porto wrote the screenplay for the film; it was produced by Isen Robbins, Aimee Schoof, Ron Simons, Stephen Tedeschi, Brian O’Carroll, Kim Jackson and Will Rowbotham.
"Alexandre Moors has made one of the most distinct and haunting American independent films of the year featuring unforgettable performances by Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond," Jonathan Sehring, president of Sundance Selects/IFC Films, said in a statement. "We're thrilled to be able to release this and look forward to working with the producers and Cinetic to make this a big success.”
The 2013 AFI Fest will present films from new and experienced filmmakers in five locations in Hollywood between Nov. 7 and Nov. 14, the American Film Institute announced on Tuesday.
Sponsored by Audi, the public will have free access to narrative, documentary, animated, experimental and short films at the TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman's Chinese Theatre), the Chinese 6 Theatres at the Hollywood & Highland Center, the Egyptian Theatre of the American Cinematheque and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
“AFI Fest is where the films of talented emerging filmmakers have the opportunity to screen alongside the current works of masters of the art form,“ festival director Jacqueline Lyanga said in a statement. “Last year’s festival included many extraordinary films from across the globe, from the world premiere of Steven Spielberg’s 'Lincoln' and Ang Lee’s 'Life of Pi' to first-time feature filmmaker Tosh Gitonga’s 'Nairobi Half Life,' whose film was AFI Fest’s Audience Award Breakthrough winner and Kenya’s first-ever Foreign Language Film Oscar submission.”
The festival, which launched in 1987, brought over 200 filmmakers from all over the world to Los Angeles in 2012 to present their films. Highlights included a secret screening of the newest James Bond film, "Skyfall" and the world premiere of Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock." Gala screenings included David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook," Dustin Hoffman's "Quartet" and DreamWorks Animation's "Rise of the Guardians."
The Black List and the Sundance Institute have partnered to offer a bevy of services to aspiring filmmakers, formalizing a relationship between two organizations dedicated to developing new talent.
Aspiring screenwriters who upload their scripts to the website of the Black List by April 15 can ask to receive a Black List referral and apply to the Sundance Institute’s 2014 January Screenwriters Lab for free.
Lab fellows will be able to upload their scripts for free and producers and directors who have been lab fellows since 2010 are eligible for a free membership to the Black List.
“In the last three years alone, more than a dozen scripts sourced from the annual Black List have been made into films that premiered at Sundance Film Festival,” Black List founder Franklin Leonard said in a statement. “Put simply, no single organization in the United States has done more to promote American filmmaking voices in the early stages of their development than the Sundance Institute. It’s a tremendous honor to formalize a relationship and share in their work.”
Though initially launched as a survey of industry executives’ favorite unproduced screenplays, the Black List has expanded into the service business. Screenwriters can pay to upload their screenplays for members to review and can pay an additional fee to have the scripts evaluated by industry professionals.
Leonard aims to turn the service into an industry mainstay, facilitating connections between aspiring screenwriters and the people who can help turn script into film.
Both Sundance’s Feature Film Program and the Black List have endorsed successful works. Three of the last five best pictures winners and seven of the last 12 screenwriting Oscars have gone to scripts that appeared on the Black List while the Sundance program supported Oscar nominee “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and 2013 Sundance favorite “Fruitvale.”
“We are very excited to collaborate with Franklin Leonard and The Black List to identify new writers to be considered for support by the Feature Film Program Labs,” Michelle Satter, Founding Director of Sundance's Feature Film Program, said in a statement. “Additionally, we want to expand the audience for our Lab fellows and see The Black List website as a great avenue for industry discovery, promotion and potential support.”
Forty-six of the 89 feature-length films slated for the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival were announced on Tuesday, including the world premieres for the documentary, narrative and viewpoints selections.
The festival, founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff after 9/11 to help revitalize the lower Manhattan neighborhood, runs April 17 to 28.
As previously announced, the documentary "Mistaken for Strangers" will make its world premiere on opening night. The film follows the Brooklyn-based band the National on tour and is directed by Tom Berninger, brother of lead singer Matt Berninger. The opening screening will be followed by a performance by the National.
“Big Men,” the Brad Pitt-produced African oil industry documentary written and directed by Rachel Boynton, opens the world documentary section. The narrative selection competition kicks off with “Bluebird” (pictured below right) starring Amy Morton, which director Lance Edmands gives a small Maine logging town the butterfly-effect treatment.
And “Flex Is Kings,” directed Deidre Schoo and Michael Nichols, opens the viewpoints section with a film about the Brooklyn street dance performance called "flexing."
All three films will premiere on April 18.
In all, the 2013 slate includes feature films from 30 different countries, including 53 world premieres, 7 International premieres, 15 North American premieres, 6 U.S. premieres and 8 New York premieres, festival organizers said in a statement.
A total of 113 directors will present feature works at the festival, with 35 of these filmmakers marking their feature directorial debuts. Among those directors, 26 are women. The 2013 film slate was chosen from a total of 6005 submissions.
Following are the films announced on Tuesday; the remainder of the festival's films will be announced Wednesday.
WORLD NARRATIVE AND DOCUMENTARY COMPETITIONS, AND VIEWPOINTS
World Narrative Feature Competition
Alì Blue Eyes: Directed by Claudio Giovannesi, written by Filippo Gravino and Giovannesi; Italy. A coming-of-age story about an Muslim immigrant who will stop at nothing to fit in.
Before Snowfall: Directed by Hisham Zaman, written by Kjell Ola Dahl and Zaman; Norway, Germany, Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Zaman brings the moral crisis of honor killing front and center in this international drama.
Bluebird: Directed and written by Lance Edmands; U.S. On a freezing January evening, the seemingly inconsequential actions of a school bus driver forever changes life in a small Maine logging town.
The Broken Circle Breakdown: Directed by Felix van Groeningen, written by Carl Joos and van Groeningen; Belgium. A couple from different worlds (he plays in a bluegrass band, she runs a tattoo shop) fight to save their marriage after their daughter is born.
Hide Your Smiling Faces: Directed and written by Daniel Patrick Carbone; U.S. During a hot summer in rural America, two brothers are confronted with devastation as death forces its way into their young lives.
Just a Sigh: Directed and written by Jérôme Bonnell; France. In the short break between performances, a stage actress makes a quick trip to Paris and meets a mysterious English stranger.
Lily: Directed by Matt Creed, written by Amy Grantham and Creed; U.S. Nearing the end of her treatment for breast cancer, a woman focuses on life with newfound clarity, reevaluating her relationship with an older man and her feelings about her long-absent father.
The Rocket: Directed and written by Kim Mordaunt; Australia. Set against the lush backdrop of rural Laos, this drama tells the story of scrappy ten-year-old who yearns to break free from his ill-fated destiny.
Six Acts: Directed by Jonathan Gurfinkel, written by Rona Segal; Israel. North A naïve teen is determined to improve her social status by hooking up with her new school’s coolest guy.
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors: Directed by Sam Fleischner, written by Rose Lichter-Marck and Micah Bloomberg; U.S. When an autistic teen is scolded for skipping class, he escapes into the subway for a days-long odyssey among the subway’s disparate denizens.
Sunlight Jr.: Directed and written by Laurie Collyer; U.S.. – A Quickie-mart employee and her paraplegic boyfriend are blissfully in love until she gets pregnant and their happy life comes crashes down. Stars Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon.
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?: Directed and written by Arvin Chen; Taiwan. Strait-laced optometrist is finding the typical married life difficult until he bumps into an old flame, setting off an unexpected array of dormant emotions.
World Documentary Feature Competition
Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys: Directed and written by Jessica Oreck; Finland. In the forests of Finnish Lapland, two brothers carry on the generations-old tradition of reindeer herding.
Alias Ruby Blade: A Story of Love and Revolution: Directed by Alex Meillier, written by Tanya Ager Meillier and Meillier; U.S. Kirsty Sword Gusmão went to Timor-Leste to document injustice and struggle for independence in an area closed to Western journalists.
Big Men(directed, written by Rachel Boynton; U.S. Director Rachel Boynton gains unprecedented access to Africa's oil companies.
The Genius of Marian: Directed by Banker White and Anna Fitch; U.S. Weaving past into present, filmmakers immerse the audience in the daily life of a mother suffering with Alzheimer’s.
The Kill Team: Directed by Dan Krauss, written by Lawrence Lerew, Linda Davis and Krauss; U.S. In 2010, the media branded a platoon of U.S. Army infantry soldiers “The Kill Team” following reports of its killing for sport in Afghanistan.
Let the Fire Burn: Directed by Jason Osder; U.S. Documentary of the incidents leading up to and during the 1985 standoff between the extremist African-American organization MOVE and Philadelphia authorities.
Michael H. Profession: Director: Directed and written by Yves Montmayeur; Austria, France. A career-spanning documentary about director Michael Haneke’s work, offering insight into his creative process through on-set footage and interviews.
Oxyana: Directed by Sean Dunne; U.S. Oceana, West Virginia — known as “Oxyana” after its residents’ epidemic abuse of OxyContin — is a tragically real example of the insidious spread of drug dependency throughout the country.
Powerless: Directed by Fahad Mustafa, Deepti Kakkar, written by Mustafa; India.Film sheds light on the people of Kanpur, India, who put themselves in harm’s way to get electrical power is all too common.
Raw Herring: Directed by Leonard Retel Helmrich and Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich; Netherlands. Raw Herring celebrates the cultural legacy maintained by Holland’s last great herring fishers even as new trends and foreign competition threaten their way of life.
Red Obsession: Directed and written by David Roach and Warwick Ross; Australia. – Documentary about France’s Bordeaux region as it struggles with and courts the spike in demand, sending prices skyrocketing.
Teenage: Directed by Matt Wolf, written by Jon Savage and Wolf; U.S. Documentary repositions the historical origin of teenagers and shows why those years are more than just a stepping-stone to adulthood.
A Birder's Guide to Everything: Directed by Rob Meyer, written by Luke Matheny and Meyer; U.S. On the eve of a widowed father’s second wedding, 15-year-old son leads members of his local Young Birders Society on rollicking, interstate search for an extremely rare duck.
Bending Steel: Directed by Dave Carroll, written by Ryan Scafuro and Carroll; U.S. Follows Chris Schoeck as he parlays his extraordinary strength into the pursuit of his lifelong dream — becoming the Coney Island Strongman.
BIG JOY: The Adventures of James Broughton: Directed by Stephen Silha, Eric Slade, and Dawn Logsdon; U.S. Follows poet-filmmaker James Broughton's deeply intertwined creative and personal lives.
Bridegroom: Directed and written by Linda Bloodworth Thomason; U.S. Gives an intensely personal edge to the ongoing debate over the legal rights of same-sex couples.
Cutie and the Boxer: Directed by Zachary Heinzerling, written by Ada Bligaard Soby; U.S. Once a rising if unruly star in the ’70s art scene, eighty-year-old “boxing” painter Ushio Shinohara now struggles to establish his artistic legacy.
Dancing in Jaffa: Directed by Hilla Medalia, written by Philip Shane and Medalia; U.S.. Renowned ballroom dancer Pierre Dulain stars in this charming documentary that offers a unique perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Deep Powder: Directed by Mo Ogrodnik; U.S. A boarding school senior makes a cocaine run to Ecuador.
Farah Goes Bang: Directed by Meera Menon, written by Laura Goode and Menon; U.S. Coming-of-age tale about a girl who hits the road with her buddies to stump for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, hoping the trip will be her opportunity to finally shed her unwanted virginity.
Flex Is Kings: Directed by Deidre Schoo and Michael Nichols; U.S. Journey to the edge of Brooklyn and of street performance itself in this sparkling portrait of the freeing power of art.
Floating Skyscrapers: Directed and written by Tomasz Wasilewski; Poland. Two young men meet at an art opening and sparks fly in this story of finding love.
Harmony Lessons: Directed and written by Emir Baigazin; Kazakhstan, Germany, France. Symbolism and striking cinematography help us navigate the complicated landscape of a teenager’s mind in this insightful Kazakh film about violence among children.
Jîn: Directed and written by Reha Erdem; Turkey. Erdem relays in radiant detail the effects of the decades-long Turkish-Kurdish conflict.
Kiss the Water: Directed by Eric Steel; U.S., U.K. Travel to Scotland’s far northern highlands and explore the life and remarkable influence of Megan Boyd, fishing fly-maker extraordinaire.
Lenny Cooke: Directed by Benny Safdie and Joshua Safdie; U.S.. – World Premiere, Documentary follows Lenny Cooke, the most hyped high school basketball player in the country, ranked above future greats LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in 2001. A decade later, he has never played a minute in the NBA.
The Moment: Directed by Jane Weinstock, written by Jane Gloria Norris and Weinstock; U.S. Narrative film about the mysterious disappearance of an artist.
Northwest: Directed by Michael Noer, written by Rasmus Heisterberg and Noer; Denmark. Territory, power and pride are the seismic forces in this adrenaline-fueled narative crime thriller.
Odayaka: Directed and written by Nobuteru Uchida; Japan. North American Premiere, Narrative film about the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.
The Patience Stone: Directed by Atiq Rahimi, written by Jean-Claude Carrère and Atiq Rahimi; Afghanistan, France, Germany. Narrative. A woman tends to her comatose husband, an injured rebel fighter in an unnamed, war-torn village, only whispering of her fear for their two young daughters' lives.
Run and Jump: Directed by Steph Green, written by Ailbhe Keogan; Ireland, Germany. Narrative. After a stroke leaves her husband disabled and fundamentally changed, a spirited Irish wife struggles to keep her family members together.
Taboor: Directed and written by Vahid Vakilifar; Iran. Narrative. A lone motorcyclist travels the empty streets of Tehran at night.
Wadjda: Directed and written by Haifaa Al-Mansour; Saudi Arabia, Germany. Narrative. Meet Wadjda (Waad Mohammed., a feisty, funny and wholly unconventional ten-year-old girl determined to scrounge up enough money to buy a bicycle, despite the societal repercussions sure to follow.
What Richard Did: Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, written by Malcolm Campbell; Ireland. Narrative. Charismatic Richard leads a group of devoted friends through the rituals of their final summer break together: partying on the beach, hazing younger students, hooking up. But the good times will not last forever.