On Monday, when we launched our Oscar predictions for 2012, Kris was keen to stress how fluid the field is, how few things are set in stone. “Which of these could fall off the 2012 map and take a seat until next year?” he asked. Days later, the first of these dropouts — not that it was ever promised to us this year in the first place — has come to light, and the Contenders charts have already required tweaking.
But it’s good news. The latest feature from unhurried New York auteur James Gray — a starry, evidently lush period piece that’s currently untitled, but was once dubbed “Low Life” — has been acquired by The Weinstein Company for a 2013 release, and Deadline’s Mike Fleming claims that the distributor has “big plans” for the film next year.
That puts a major question mark on speculation about the film cropping up in this year’s autumn festivals; Gray’s work, for whatever reason, has a greater following in France than anywhere else, so Cannes 2013 (where his last three features premiered in Competition) seems the natural place for the Weinsteins to unveil this one, which only recently completed shooting.
The new film also marks two crucial reunions of sorts for Gray: chiefly with the Weinsteins, whose collaboration with the director on his 2000 sophomore feature “The Yards” (back in the Miramax days) was not a happy one. Accusations of over-pressuring and negligent marketing were made from the filmmaker’s camp, but hatchets have obviously been buried. It also reteams Gray with his regular leading man Joaquin Phoenix, whose extended performance stunt and fake “retirement” in 2009 did no favors for Gray’s last film “Two Lovers” — even if the director was in on the joke.
In terms of awards talk, the film’s elimination from this year’s slate simplifies things for actress Marion Cotillard, who now has nothing to interfere with a strong Best Actress bid for her excellent work in Sony Pictures Classics’ “Rust and Bone.” She has a meaty-sounding lead role in the Gray film, playing a Polish immigrant in 1920s New York forced into prostitution to provide for herself and her sister. Phoenix, plays her Big Apple pimp; Jeremy Renner plays his cousin, a kind-hearted magician with whom Cotillard falls in love.
The screenplay, by Gray and Ric Menello, is, refreshingly, an original effort, incorporating elements of mythic storytelling but allegedly inspired by the director’s own family history. Early stills, excavated by The Playlist via French newpaper Liberation, portend a visual feast, with ace cinematographer Darius Khondji, citing Robert Bresson and American realist painting as visual influences. Over four distinctively textured features, Gray’s never quite hit a home run for me, but I couldn’t be much more excited about this one.
Anyway, one to watch — just not this year. The Contenders pages (Best Actress in particular) have been adjusted accordingly.
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