Tuesday, February 27, 2007


It took Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck close to two years to research and write The Lives of Others, the gripping tale of police-state East Germany in the 1980s, when the Stasi -- the government's many-tentacled secret police force -- spied on citizens, arrested them, tortured them, and sometimes killed them. On Sunday night, Donnersmarck, a strapping 6'9'' German who speaks flawless English (he spent a good part of his childhood in New York), took the stage at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood to accept the Oscar for best foreign-language film for his poignant, potent directorial debut.

So how did he manage life in those days when he was an unknown, struggling, yet-to-be filmmaker, poring over government files, interviewing former Stasi agents, Stasi informants and victims, writing and researching day and night, month after month?

"I was still a student in film school," Donnersmarck explained in an interview a few weeks before he nabbed the Academy Award. "I actually managed to make a little money out of my short films, and some award money. I sold a short film -- Doberman, a four-minute black-and-white action film about a dog chasing a man -- to Steven Spielberg, to a website that he and Ron Howard had started up in the '90s called pop.com.

"But I had a meager life, actually, until about a half a year ago. I’m still repaying debts to my father, my brother, and friends. You have to swallow quite a lot of humiliation, you really do.… What people admire about artists once they’re successful is the fact that they were willing to take that absurd risk of just living with that kind of humiliation for all of their life, because it’s crazy. As a person working in the arts, you have to have a certain pride and confidence, but everything around you conspires to make you lose that, you know. It really is tough.

"And especially, with this one, it took me so long. Sometimes, you have people who can live with that type of thing because they feel that there is nothing else they can do, so the opportunity cost is not that great. My opportunity cost was pretty high, because I was offered lots of really interesting things and jobs -- in the film field, but also in other fields. And, also [for a] macho-minded man, it’s painful to have your wife making so much more money than you and pulling far more than her weight in support of the family. That’s not something that I wish upon any man."

Friday, February 23, 2007


In the 78 previous Academy Award ceremonies, no foreign-language film has won the big prize, the best picture Oscar. Could that change on Sunday?

Although I still think Little Miss Sunshine is going to take the statuette, the best picture contest is one of the few categories where there isn't a lock, a presumptive shoo-in. For a time, Babel looked to be the frontrunner, then the buzz started buzzing for Scorsese's The Departed, then Little Miss Sunshine nabbed the Producers Guild best pic kudo. And there's The Queen and its clutch of supporters (there are A LOT of Brits, and Anglophiles, in Hollywood, and in the Academy.)

And then there's Letters from Iwo Jima. For one thing, it's a masterpiece. For another, it's from Clint Eastwood, the actor/icon-turned-director much revered by Academy members. Eastwood already has two best picture Oscars and two for directing (Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby) and was nominated in the same categories for Mystic River. If Letters wins, and it just might, Eastwood would be making history: the first foreign-language best picture. And if he wins best director along with it, that would be a shocker -- Scorsese is the odds on favorite.

But assuming that happens -- Letters best pic, Eastwood best director -- he'd still have to make another feature (First Man, maybe? -- Eastwood's developing the biopic of NASA moonwalker Neil Armstrong) , and win again, to tie the record for the director with the most golden statuettes. That would be John Ford, who won his four directing Oscars for The Informer (1935), The Grapes Of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Quiet Man (1952).

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Have you seen the trailer for Premonition, the Sandra Bullock thriller opening March 16th? A cop shows up at her door and says, "I'm sorry to tell you this. Your husband was in a car accident. He died on the scene -- yesterday." The only thing is, Bullock dreamt that awful moment, and her husband is still alive -- or maybe not, she's not sure. But she saw him making goo-goo eyes at his office workmate, that one-time supermodel Amber Valetta, and there's a calendar entry Bullock wrote on the day before her hubby's demise that reads "Jim dies!" in big red letters. Is she psychic or psychotic? Or is Premonition an unofficial sequel to Denzel Washington's thriller Deja Vu, and she's just messing with that same space-time continuum machine that the Feds were using down in New Orleans to alter the future and upset the past? To watch the trailer, click here.