If or when the U.S. Treasury stumbles too badly to stop America's slide into recession, we'll always have Fox Searchlight to bail us out. The mini-major had another specialty smash last weekend with Slumdog Millionaire, the Mumbai-based genre-bender whose $35,043 per-screen average was the fourth best of any film this year, trailing The Dark Knight by less than $1,300 per location. And if a quick scan of the Searchlight record tells us anything, the numbers will continue to astound — and they portend even better things for the Oscar race.With critical raves in part pushing it to a $416,000 opening since last Wednesday, Slumdog is Searchlight's fifth best opening average in the last five years. The three titles just above it: 2007: Juno ($59,124 per screen; $143.5 million cumulative gross) 2006: Little Miss Sunshine ($52,999 per screen; $59.9 million cumulative) 2004: Sideways ($51,760 per screen; $71.5 million cumulative) All of which went on to earn Oscar nominations for Best Picture, and all of which won for Best Screenplay. Of course I Heart Huckabees trumped them all with $73,044 per screen, and we all know how that turned out. Still! Clear spots in your Oscar pools, and let the Obama transition team know where they'll find the real economic stimulus. You can thank us later.
After picking up its hardware in Venice and a distribution deal in Toronto, Mickey Rourke's comeback The Wrestler screened for the first time in the United States this morning in New York. We crashed the joint, and we can confirm that everything you've heard about Rourke's Oscar future is essentially on the nose: He'll nab a Best Actor nomination for his performance as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a 40-something pro wrestler on the downswing with pretty everything in his life including his relationship with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), his hang-ups with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) and his own tormented perspective on aging. That said, it's sort of a marvel of accessibility and not nearly the downer we expected from feel-bad master Darren Aronofsky; after the nihilist pageantry of last year's There Will Be Blood, the Academy will eat this up come February. Moreover, the voters he hasn't alienated over the years will crawl over each other to be a part of Rourke's comeback story. Fox Searchlight is packaging it as we speak, and Rourke himself was candidly — maybe too candidly — selling its prototype at a press conference following today's screening."I mean, if I knew it would take me 15 years to get back in the saddle and work again because of the way I handled things, I really would have handled things differently," he told the crowd. "I just didn't have the tools. I'm doing things differently this time around — understanding what it is to be a professional, be responsible and to be consistent. Those are things that weren't in my vocabulary back then. Change for me didn't come easy; I didn't wanna change until I lost everything until I realized that you better change, or, you know, blow your fucking brains out. Either you change and go on with life, or you're just a piece of shit. "Everything I felt was that I would be weak — that it was a weakness to change, for the armor that I put on my whole life. I was too proud to change, because my strength at the time was a weakness. I'm all right with it now, and yeah, it took me 15, 16, 17 years out of the game. But it's really nice, because I get to come back and work with these people here." He gestured to his left, where Aronofsky, Tomei and co-producer Scott Franklin were seated alongside him at the dais. They're probably short-listers, too, along with screenwriter Robert Siegel, likely the first Onion alumnus to be considered for an Academy Award. Really, that's the story we can't wait to write, but we'll take this in the meantime.
Arguably the first film to pack sex, autoasphyxia and colonial American angst into the same tidy bundle,Choke (opening Friday) features Sam Rockwell as Victor Mancini, a generally kindly sex addict whose professional pursuits include sponging off benefactors who happen to have saved him from choking. In his off-time, he susses his father's identity from visits with his ailing mother (Anjelica Houston) and a doctor (Kelly Macdonald) who reckons Jesus had something to do with it. Strippers, anal beads and hormonally charged 18th-century reenactments round it out — perhaps the very least one might expect from an adaptation of the prodigiously perverse Chuck Palahniuk. But it's a sturdy fit for the adventuresome Rockwell, whom we cornered for a few minutes of his busy '08 (also including Frost/Nixon later this fall) and another round of Defamer's ongoing Five Questions:DEFAMER: Look — Fox Searchlight gave us souvenir anal beads! Aren't they great? SAM ROCKWELL: Those are great. This is a classy movie. DEFAMER: No doubt. Victor has enough compulsions to require about a dozen different levels of research — sex addiction, choking, mother issues, etcetera. What did you prioritize here? SAM ROCKWELL: Obviously we read the book a lot. [Director] Clark Gregg and I rehearsed a lot; he was very well prepared; he's an actor, which is great. He's sensitive to this. I went to seven or eight sex addiction meetings. I met a sex therapist; we talked a lot, and he showed me a documentary. I try to do a little bit of research on everything, some more than others. But sexual addiction is more like a food disorder in that you're really filling a void; it's different than any kind of alcohol or narcotic abuse. DEFAMER: With that in mind, did you ever play devil's advocate with this — that sex addiction is more in the mind of the beholder? SAM ROCKWELL: I've been working with an acting coach for a long time; he and I go to therapy, and we talk about that in our work. It's kind of like Alfie or Tom Jones, but we're psychoanalyzing this Casanova in a comedic way. A real Casanova is not a guy that looks like Brad Pitt or George Clooney; they're normal-looking guys in this very depraved world. It's not as glamorous as people think. Sex addiction can go from compulsive masturbation to prostitutes to people who've been sexually molested. It's a serious condition; it's nothing to be laughed about. But I think we respect the condition and are able to joke about it at the same time. DEFAMER: We've been following you since In the Soup, in which you portrayed Steve Buscemi's mentally disabled neighbor. Sixteen years later, the "full retard" backlash is on from all sides. As someone who skillfully portrayed disability before it was Oscar bait, what's your take? SAM ROCKWELL: Well, look, they're totallly missing the joke. It's about actors and awards shows. I thought Leonardo DiCaprio did it really well, but at some point you have to let the research go and intuitively daydream and just let your imagination go. It's a matter of taste really. Do you respond to Forrest Gump? I do. I respond to what Dustin Hoffman does in Rain Man. Hoffman tells a story about Midnight Cowboy where he found the limp for Ratzo Rizzo. He put his foot in like this, and he got all these letters from handicapped people afterward saying, "That's the most ridiculous limp I've ever seen — you're making fun of us." So you try to be as responsible as you can be, but it's just an artist's interpretation. [Tropic Thunder] makes fun of the actor's process and the hype that goes around it. DEFAMER: When you take on Palahniuk, you're inevitably taking on Fight Club. Were you apprehensive about having to follow a classic? SAM ROCKWELL: Absolutely. But the advantage we had is that this is the anti-Fight Club. This is a low-budget film. We don't have special effects or bells and whistles. This is a different kind of movie. It's an independent movie in every sense of the word. It's like Harold and Maude or The Fisher King and think of it as a different tone; Fight Club is darker. We've got a heavy subject, but we've also got anal beads.
After The Wrestler's more-than-well-received premiere last week in Venice, where star Mickey Rourke was forewarned that Oscar would likely forbid his puppy onstage next February, word out of Toronto confirms that Darren Aronofsky's drama was picked up over the weekend by the awards-season whizzes at Fox Searchlight. The sale went down for about $4 million and all but assures Rourke of a Best Actor nomination if not a win, similar to the arc following Searchlight's push on Forest Whitaker's behalf for The Last King of Scotland. So early congrats to him. But there's still work to do, as we've discovered after the jump.The critical accolades to date suggest the campaign will only expand from there, perhaps starting with revisions to the publicity stills currently circulating in the trades. After all, we know Oscar voters love a comeback story, but rarely against the backdrop of slogans invoking the sucking of "a fat dick." Don't take our word for it, though; see above where The Hollywood Reporter got burned, Variety drew the line, and where a better tomorrow begins today with a little bit of Photoshop and a whole lot of love.
And just like that, the Telluride Film Festival is over — the sequestered Colorado tradition known for anointing and/or unveiling awards-season front-runners en route to Toronto and beyond. But with no Juno this year to charm visiting critics and distribution bosses alike, Labor Day came and went instead with rangy early takes on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher's long-awaited (and reportedly just long) saga of Brad Pitt aging backwards. While we had pretty much gotten used to the film's stirring Spanish-language trailer, a few closer reads of previews emerging from the Rockies suggest the final result might be a little more complex: Extraordinary digital effects! Romance! And, alas, disappointment:
Our recent experiments in Film Trailer and Clip Interception have been spotty at best, but this one seems to be the real thing: A new, mildly NSFW scene from Choke, the Sam Rockwell sex-addict / colonial-reenactor-angst comedy opening September 26. The red-band ribaldry of the past is swapped out for a more subdued exchange, however; no bare breasts, just bare souls as Rockwell and his role-playing partner plot out ... we don't even know. Our outraged mothers switched it off after about 10 seconds, leaving us hanging until our interview with Rockwell next week. So until we can straighten out (or at least parent-proof) this clip-grabbing contraption, perv away while you can after the jump. [Fox Searchlight]
Ramping up the Oscar-season stakes following the exploitation of Abigail Breslin's dimples in 2006 and Diablo Cody's clothes-allergic antics in 2007, Fox Searchlight appears to have gone the way of using low-cost (read: free) young acting hopefuls in its early push on behalf of the Biggie Smalls biopic Notorious. Today's New York Times suggests that Brooklyn rapper and brave ass-shooting survivor Jamal Woolard was essentially already cast as the slain hip-hop star when Searchlight welcomed more than 100 would-be Biggies to its
time-wasting, dream-devouring publicity stunt open casting call last fall: