NEW YORK — Fox Searchlight Pictures held its annual east coast holiday party this evening at Andaz 5th Avenue with a nice second-floor spread with principals from the studio’s awards season hopefuls — “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Hitchcock” and “The Sessions” — on hand. Spirits were particularly high after “Beasts” and “Sessions” combined for six Independent Spirit Award nominations (with one each for “Ruby Sparks” and “Sound of my Voice”).
I was glad to finally meet “Hitchcock” director Sacha Gervasi, a charismatic guy who spoke with me about film critics baring their teeth and declaring that he “made up” the events of his film. I would posit that hero-worship may have gotten the better of many — like, say, Manohla Dargis, whose review basically refuted reporting done by her New York Times colleague John Anderson a week earlier. “It…takes extravagant liberties with the dead,” Dargis wrote. “Stephen Rebello, author of ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,’ the book on which ‘Hitchcock’ is partly based, interviewed many of Hitchcock”s collaborators on ‘Psycho’ and confirmed the film”s version of events,” Anderson wrote.
He was also particularly riled at the notion that his film is in some way spiteful of the masterful director. HitFix’s own Drew McWeeny proclaimed in his review, “Only someone who hates the filmmaker would endorse this mess,” for instance. “I have the utmost respect for Hitchcock,” Gervasi said. “This was made with love.”
Indeed, perhaps those who would have preferred hagiography will be a bit silenced when they hear it from people like “Psycho” script supervisor Marshall Schlom, who told Gervasi that his film “captured the warmth and the heart of the man I worked with.” Gervasi’s number one goal, though, was to tell the story of a woman — Hitchcock’s wife and collaborator Alma Reville — who has gone unsung for far too long.
But still, amid all this, the director won’t deny the usual dramatization. He noted (what should go without saying), “By the way, it’s a MOVIE.”
The last couple of days I keep bumping into “Beasts” director Benh Zeitlin at these things, and there’s only so many ways you can ask, “How are you handling all this?” It’s a haze for the guy, but he’s loosening up a bit. He marveled at how accustomed to the rhythms of the season his young star Quvenzhané Wallis has become, having observed her not only adapting to all of this since the film’s big Sundance bow in January, but also basically growing up amid the fray.
“She picks things up so quickly,” he said. “She just decided, ‘This is my job now. And I’m going to be good at my job.'” He expects Wallis will continue to work in the business, even though it’s a precarious position, to be a child actor. But he’s happy that her family doesn’t have plans to move to Hollywood and dive right in. And he has ideas for projects on which he’d like to collaborate with her in the future. “I’d like us to have a Kinski/Herzog thing,” he joked. We then pondered what on earth might one day be her “Woyzeck.”
Zeitlin also said he unfortunately hasn’t seen most of the other films in play this season, but the first one on his (and “Beasts” producer Dan Janvey’s) list of must-sees is “Zero Dark Thirty.” Indeed, Kathryn Bigelow’s film was the most-discussed of the week’s events amongst film journalists. It seems it’s brought up in every new conversation.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” screenwriter Ol Parker apparently sussed out who I was by hearing my voice as I passed (I assume he’s a listener of the podcast) and stopped me for a quick chat. There’s another lovely guy totally flummoxed by the intrigue of the season. “Wow, there’s my movie,” he said as one of the many television screens throughout the venue played a featurette on the film.
We chatted a bit about India and I expressed regret that a planned trip there next year might be put on hold. But he was extremely encouraging. “Just go,” he said, with nothing but wonderful things to recall about the Rajasthan film shoot. (Parker, by the way, is married to actress Thandie Newton. I had no idea.)
I didn’t get a chance to speak with “The Sessions” director Ben Lewin, who put a lot of heart into the film given that he is a polio survivor. Stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt couldn’t make the trip but he’s as vital a face for such a personal work as anyone else.
Tomorrow many of these folks will be doing the same thing all over again as Searchlight has its annual WEST coast holiday party. More events like yesterday’s luncheon and face time with Academy members will surely be in the cards as phase one marches on. “Beasts” seems to be the big shot in the stable, and there’s hope that it can resonate and swing back around, particularly in the wake of things like the Indie Spirit nods and Gotham Awards.
One third-party publicist working on the film confided in me yesterday that he’s hopeful the screener will be a priority over the holiday. Me too.