After feeling Flags of Our Fathers was luke-warm good, I saw Clint Eastwood's companion piece, Letters from Iwo Jima, last week and felt it was dimensionally better - a tightly focused, meaningful work that captured so many of the conflicting feelings that war evokes, both on a national and personal scale.
Others feel even more strongly about it. Over the past few days, Letters has won best picture honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review, positioning the film as a late-arriving Oscar frontrunner, despite its unique status as a U.S.-produced foreign language film.
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Last month, I interviewed Eastwood for the Variety issue previewing best director candidates. Here's a link to the piece - mostly a Q&A.
VISION: "I started to get to thinking about both of these movies as sort of a tribute to the common man," Eastwood says. "It came to be not so much about who won or lost the war, it came to be about the people who fought it and, (when) fate put them in their position, how they acted."
CHALLENGES: "We were trying to figure a way to re-enact the invasion right there on Iwo Jima. It is quite isolated out there, and we realized if we get going on this thing and (the Japanese) decide it is going to be too much mayhem," the shoot could be in trouble.
"The Japanese are very spiritual about the island --they lost 21,000 men there. So I just had a hunch they weren't really going to want to see an invasion on the beaches with the magnitude it would take to duplicate what was done in 1945. We were looking at other places as alternatives. We were looking at Hawaii, among other places. My associate, Rob Lorenz, went down to a convention in Los Angeles where different countries were coming in and making proposals. Iceland came down and (the person) said, 'I know it seems far-fetched ...' "
MAGIC: "When we got to Iceland, Jack Taylor, our art director, had plowed up some of the sand into berms about the exact same height as the Iwo Jima berms and duplicated them quite well. I think the magic point was when we got there and we had all these tractors and amphibious landing craft and Higgins boats and all that stuff ... and I thought, 'This is it, we're here now, we're going.' "
The interview itself was funny for me. Eastwood had been in Japan that week and wasn't available to talk until Saturday afternoon. So there I am, sitting with my 4-year-old daughter at home, my wife trying to sneak in a nap, when Clint Eastwood calls on my cellphone. And there I am, asking Eastwood to hang on while I get my daughter situated. And there I am again, a minute later, asking Eastwood to hang on again when my daughter wants to do something else.
And Clint, much more grandfatherly and much less intense than his persona, never had a problem with waiting.
My wife had earned the right to nap, but my going into the bedroom to say, "I need you - Eastwood's on the phone" worked just fine as far as rousing her.
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I also have a short feature today on Best Supporting Actor candidate Jackie Earle Haley of Little Children - one of the best interviews I've had:
The question hangs in the air before Jackie Earle Haley responds. How could the actor relate to the character of convicted sex offender Ronald James McGorvey in "Little Children"?
Silence. Finally, the words come pouring out.
"I'll never be able to relate to this character's urges or his obsessions, but what I can relate to is his obsessive nature," Haley says. "I understand that. Ronny is an incredibly self-loathing character who suffers from a great deal of low self-esteem."
In fact, from the moment Haley began reading the script for "Little Children," it began tapping into his own self-confidence issues.
"Ten pages in, I'm thinking, 'This is good.' Twenty pages in, 'This is really good.' Thirty pages in, 'This is really, really good.' Forty pages in, I was thinking, 'This is so good, I don't have a shot at getting this role.' Then I got kind of depressed," he says with a laugh. ...
This morning, Haley took honors from the New York Film Critics Circle. United 93, which I would still put above Letters from Iwo Jima, won best picture.
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I watched A Prairie Home Companion over the weekend and it was quite sweet (without being sappy). It was a movie about time passing, a movie with sadness but without lament - it was sincerely life-affirming. Not a best picture, but I can see a legitimate case for Robert Altman as a best director candidate - independent of the sentiment over his recent passing. You can really feel his direction building that movie in a positive way.