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Thursday 16 March

News: Festivals and Awards
Feature: The Berlin Film Festival
Current and Upcoming Releases


American Beauty looks set to score heavily at the Oscars, judging by its existing awards performance. The dark suburban satire, which is approaching $100 million at the US box office, is the most heavily nominated film at the Academy Awards, scored heavily at the Golden Globes, and must be hot favourite to take out major honours on March 26.

Director Sam Mendes picked up the award from the Directors Guild of America award. The DGA awards are generally accurate predictors of Academy Award achievement: in its 52-year history, only four times has the winner failed to receive the Oscar.

In Los Angeles, the Screen Actors Guild are also establishing a predictive track record, with nine of the ten lead acting honours going on to win Oscars. This year Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening won the lead awards, with the cast of American Beauty winning the ensemble acting award.

SAG supporting acting awards went to Angelina Jolie (as a hospitalised sociopath in Girl, Interrupted) and Michael Caine (the abortionist doctor in The Cider House Rules).

The Writers Guild of America gave their award for best screenplay based on material written specifically for the screen to Alan Ball, writer of American Beauty, ahead of Magnolia, The Sixth Sense, Three Kings and Being John Malkovich. The nod for best screenplay based on material previously published went to Election by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor.

The London Film Critics' Circle awarded American Beauty film of the year, with awards for director (Sam Mendes), screenwriter (Alan Ball, actor (Kevin Spacey) and actress (Annette Bening). East is East, written by Ayub Khan Din won British film of the year and screenwriter All About My Mother was named foreign language film of the year.

American Beauty also scored at the Chicago Film Critics Awards, winning best film, actor and director, plus most promising actor for Wes Bentley as the Burnhams' intense young neighbour. Boys Don't Cry took out best actress and best supporting actress awards for award for Hilary Swank and Chloe Sevigny respectively, with Tom Cruise taking best supporting actor for Magnolia. Charlie Kaufman won best screenplay for Being John Malkovich.

The April edition of High Times magazine features the first-ever Stony Awards for films treating marijuana smoking in a realistic way. The 1999 honours were headed by Go, which won best movie, director, actress and "tripping scene". Kevin Spacey won best actor for his role in American Beauty. "Best pot scene" went to Dick and Being John Malkovich won "best stoner movie". Dennis Hopper was a shoe-in for the first Lifetime Stony Achievement award. We wonder if they've seen Scarfies?

At the 25th Cesar film awards in France, a small outsider film took four prizes including best film and best director for Tonie Marshall. Venus Beauty (Institute) - which screened in NZ at last year's annual film festival is set in a beauty parlour. The much-nominated Joan of Arc only received awards for soundtrack and costumes. Daniel Auteuil won best actor for The Girl on the Bridge; best actress award was Karin Viard for Up With Hearts! Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother (which opens in NZ in April) won the Cesar for best foreign film.

Upcoming Festivals include the Venice International Film Festival (March 30-April 16) which this year features a big Balkan cinema retrospective ever. The 80 feature films from 1940-80, plus 30 shorts, include US films shot on Balkan locations like Roger Corman's 1963 film The Secret Invasion. Corman will be a special guest at the festival.


In a brief moment of respite in a lofty apartment deep in the heart of former East Berlin, Homer Simpson - the sole survivor due to his fortuitous visit to a bomb shelter of the 'stupid Frenchies' nuclear reprisal on his dim town - celebrates by dancing naked in a church to the chunka chunka rhythms of "War, what is it good for? Absolutely nuthin'."

It's a brilliant moment. It's the 'Simpsons Halloween Special'. The spooks of war mocked with blithe bad taste find no echo on another channel; here it's the Battle of Berlin. From one day to the next, a city levelled. The present battle in Berlin is to find any authentic remnants of Berlin past. Pockets of swank, spanking new buildings, testaments to the capitalist sweep eastward; selectively historic (skip the Nazi period, the East German period, hell, skip the 20th Century) when it's too problematic. A schizoid frenzy prevails in Europe's largest building site. A frenzy highlighted at the Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin.

Fifty years old, the festival celebrates on the recently completed Potsdamer Platz which was readied in time for the Berlinale; it's rumoured that a week before the opening at the Berlinale Palast some of the cafes were empty of chairs and staff.

The heart of Neue Berlin, consistently transformed over the past century (a bustling crossroads sporting the first European city traffic light, a bombed collection of rubble, a razed plain cut through by the Wall, a paradise for rabbits), Potsdamer Platz floats like some island or alien spacecraft amongst the cranes and bulldozers reshaping the surrounding terrain. Berliners visit it, a pilgrimage to a theme park; its streets don't feel real. Holding bays for fleets of taxis.

What was real for many was Leonardo Di Caprio's visit to promote The Beach. Two seconds of smile. A pudgy face, a weasel in the eyes. The crowd rustled - no full-throated cries - many not being able to see the object of their vocal appreciation. But it was enough to know that he was there. That someone was getting out of the limousine. Someone.

Did Robert de Niro come for his tribute? No one's sure. And hadn't Magnolia's director already left town? What's his name? How's he going to pick up the Golden Bear? He's been flown back from New York in a Concorde. No, by private plane but they can't find a crew to man the thing. Will he get here in time? It's all hush-hush, no one must know!

Not everyone wandering dazed is here for the film festival; shopping is the thing. Wandering among tall buildings rivalling each other for height and cacophony of styles. Being adrift of a weekend, in a shopping arcade that resembles any basic consumer location constructed in the last few decades (complaint of city planners: nothing new amongst all this newness, did anyone think to maybe put something visually pleasing in there, dream up some concept that goes beyond food stalls and clothes stores?). Being a drift and drifting into a crowd because its presence indicates that something is about to happen, and it is the Berlinale, therefore someone is sure to be arriving.

Denzel Washington cried, it's said, was moved to tears by the response given to The Hurricane. Sid Vicious didn't make it, although he, along with other Sex Pistols, was invited. Julian Temple promised that if Sid were to show (he was notoriously late), they'd gate crash the Di Caprio party and really turn it into a live event.

Meanwhile, the apfel strudel and the chokolade mit rhum are divine at an elegant kaffeehaus, whose whereabouts shall remain discreet. What better after a visit to Kleist's grave? (Whose? What's he got to do with Leonardo?)

by Sandra Reid


Golden Bear for best film went to PT Anderson's sprawling family relationship epic Magnolia, followed by Chinese rural love story The Road Home. Milos Foreman won best director award for Man on the Moon (Jim Carrey as comedian Andy Kaufman) while Denzel Washington won the best actor prize for his portrayal of Jonah Lomu, sorry, Reuben Carter, in The Hurricane. Bibiana Beglau and Nadja Uhl shared best actress for The Legends of Rita, about exiled former terrorists in East Germany.


FILMS OPENING this week in Wellington (from 16 March):

Boys Don't Cry (R18, contains sexual violence, violence and drug use) - the fictionalisation of The Brandon Teena Story, or how a woman passed as a man in conservative small town USA with tragic results. Starring Golden Globe winner Hilary Swank.

Savage Honeymoon (R15, contains irresponsible behaviour associated with alcohol) - The hotly anticipated Westie comedy from writer/director Mark Beesley promises to be the first big NZ hit of the year, exploding gas canisters and all.

The Green Mile (R16, contains violence) - The second Stephen King prison adaptation from director Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption). This time it's a scrupulously faithful adaptation of the serial novellas about a guard (Tom Hanks) who encounters strange spiritual goings on when a giant convicted murderer is placed on his death row shift.


American Beauty (R16 contains violence, offensive language, drug use and sex scenes) - Near-immaculate first feature from first time director Sam Mendes, albeit with less depth than the mass acclaim might suggest - whoever dubbed it "Blue Velour" was spot on. But Kevin Spacey is excellent as the 42-year-old who breaks out of the constraints of his suburban family existence, and the rest of the fantastic cast right up there with him almost every step of the way. Great fun.

Happiness (R18, sexual content may offend) - American Beauty's evil cousin; cruelly comic magic from Todd Solondz, as a top cast unflinchingly portray an often grotesque gallery of hapless seekers for those who can love them. Dylan Baker as the psychiatrist with serious problems of his own is utterly compelling.

The Straight Story (G) - David Lynch's gorgeous Disney saga about a lawnmower-driving old coot travelling across Iowa to visit his dying brother.

Three Kings (R16, contains violence) - exuberant, loud and remarkably biting post-Gulf War thriller, with a great cast (including NZ's Cliff Curtis) and top skills from writer/director David O Russell. Much much better than the trailer and press ads might suggest; as much hart and smarts as anything out there.

The Talented Mr Ripley (M, contains violence and offensive language) - Anthony Minghella's beautiful reading of Patricia Highsmith's thriller is very effective. Matt Damon is effectively slimy as the upwardly mobile protagonist, Jude Law is cruelly divine as the object of Ripley's (initial) affection, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett providing top support - along with the excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman (Happiness). Hitchcockian suspense, lush Italian vistas, plus one of the year's best murder scenes to date - it's truly shocking, and the operatic enhancement later in the film is superb.


The Matrix (M) - on the Embassy big screen Friday 11.30pm. On the one!

Fight Club (R18) - on the Embassy big screen Saturday 11.30pm. Blowing up bigtime!


The Dinner Game (April 6) - French farce about impersonations and manipulations.

All About My Mother (April 6 TBC) - Pedro Almodovar's award-winning emotional masterwork.

Human Traffic (April 13) - drug-fuelled weekend clubbing fun; from the Best of British season.

Buena Vista Social Club (April 20) - Wim Wender' doco about guitarist Ry Cooder and some fabulous old Cuban musicians.

East Is East (April 27) - big UK hit; from the Best of British season.

Being John Malkovich (May 11) - the surreal sensation from director Spike Jonze.

Snow Falling On Cedars (TBC) - film version of the best-selling David Gutterson novel.

OUT TAKES lesbian and gay film festival (Christchurch 25-28 May; Wellington 1-7 June; Auckland 8-16 June) - Leading edge lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered short films, features and docos, including Swedish tour-de-force Fucking Amal, dark and brooding German film Lola & Bilidikid, remarkable French film The Treaty of Chance, and sexy romantic comedy Just One Time. (visit


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