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Jason Reitman (#110 of 10)

Toronto International Film Festival 2013 Jason Reitman’s Labor Day

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Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Jason Reitman’s Labor Day
Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Jason Reitman’s Labor Day

Jason Reitman has said that with Labor Day he had to relearn the craft of filmmaking. It shows. The serene, nostalgia-tinted drama, based on Joyce Maynard’s novel, has none of the director’s trademark sardonic irreverence. While there are hints of humor, given the film’s absurd, near-implausible scenario of a fugitive who plays daddy in a broken family home, Reitman is refreshingly not aiming for cheap laughs here, instead opting for the kind of sincerity required to sell the film’s central idea about the visceral necessity of family love. This unexpected directorial about-face is what Reitman needed to demonstrate that he’s a director with true emotional maturity.

Poster Lab: Young Adult

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Poster Lab: <em>Young Adult</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Young Adult</em>

Whether you’re clutching a hamburger phone in anticipation of the next Diablo Cody effort, or would rather strangle yourself with its cord than patronize another Juno, it’s hard to not be tickled by the poster for Young Adult, the new collaboration between Cody and director Jason Reitman. Aptly titled, the film focuses on a teen-lit writer (Charlize Theron) who’s a young adult herself, at least in terms of emotional maturity. The poster, a terribly clever merger of media cover art, gives a nod to YA fiction while emphasizing the 30-something lead character’s hangover-riddled regression, a pure/impure juxtaposition of the Bad Teacher sort. Aided greatly by a color scheme right out of the early-’90s (when purple and green were rampantly, ill-advisedly used for things other than Easter and The Joker), it’s an image that’s catnip for late-Gen-Xers and Millenials, whose backpacks were loaded with similar-looking novels by folks like S. E. Hinton. For better or worse, Cody is very much a voice of that demographic, ever-increasingly a female answer to the Apatow brotherhood. Through her work, she channels the pop culture staples that saturated her youth, and given its subject and marketing, one might see Young Adult as a precursor to a future Cody project: an adaptation of Sweet Valley High.

SXSW 2010: Crying with Laughter, The Thorn in the Heart, and Cannibal Girls

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SXSW 2010: <em>Crying with Laughter</em>, <em>The Thorn in the Heart</em>, and <em>Cannibal Girls</em>
SXSW 2010: <em>Crying with Laughter</em>, <em>The Thorn in the Heart</em>, and <em>Cannibal Girls</em>

Crying with Laughter (Justin Molotnikov). Joey Frisk (a very capable Stephen McCole) is a fireball on the verge of flaming out. His vulgar, relentless standup comedy style seems to demand that he self-destruct in every area of his life, from his irresponsibility as a father to his unprofessionalism as a comedian. He precedes his acts with a ritualistic line of coke, walks out on stage swigging a beer, and unleashes at whoever he can spot in the dimly lit crowd.

The film begins as a surprisingly interesting study of Joey, a Scottish man incapable of pulling things together. He can’t help but mess things up with his landlord, his ex, and even the old schoolmate who tracks him down (Malcom Shields). But about 25 minutes in, another film begins and leaves this one behind, instantly transforming Crying with Laughter into a breezy “mystery” thriller with plot holes. When Joey spends the third act bloody, running, and saving the day while trying to reason with villains, it hits you: “Wait—how the heck did we end up here?” I yearned for the captivating character piece this film began as.

Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions Director

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Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions: Director
Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions: Director

Gee, you think producer Adam Shankman is hedging his bets on his precious Oscarcast (based on the song “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa) turning into ladies’ night? Given that he just added a slew of vanilla-flavored beefcake to his roster of presenters, the testosterone of which should make just about any typical Gay Super Bowl viewer’s heart skip a beat (Gerard Butler, Bradley Cooper, Tom Ford, Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Pine, Keanu Reeves, Ryan Reynolds, and Sam Worthington), odds are pretty good he’s aware of Kathryn Bigelow’s impending coup and is just preemptively trying to tip the scales back in favor of what Dlisted’s Michael K so lovingly refers to as “the peen.” Nice try, Mr. So You Think You Can Stage an Oscarcast Without Allowing Lauren Bacall to Accept Her Honorary Award. No matter how many male hip-hop dancers Shankman perches atop that glass ceiling, there’s no stopping Bigelow from breaking through it this year.

Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions Adapted Screenplay

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Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

Though, thanks to category inflation, both screenplay categories now boast showdowns between no less than four best picture nominees, this is by far the easier contest of the two. Solid cases could be made for Nick Hornby’s name recognition, the viciously funny tirades spewing forth from the BBC’s The Thick of It: The Movie, and the even funnier parade of miseries inflicted on Poor Little Precious Jones, Put Upon Pie. But each comes with its own obstacle: An Education’s latent strains of anti-Semitism, In the Loop’s gleeful deployment of the c-word, and Academy members’ confusion that anyone could eat an entire bucket of chicken. Wipe them all from the slate. The WGA, BAFTA, and Globe-winning Up in the Air seems to be coasting to a fairly turbulence-free win, especially since writers Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner have managed to keep their own personal beefs with each other simmering quietly, privately away from the scrutiny of increasingly nosy Oscar bloggers. You see, Air’s screenwriting credits went into arbitration with the Writers Guild, and the result is a shared credit between two people who never even met until after filming was finished. The story, should you choose to believe it, is that Reitman threw together a script of his own after being taken by Walter Kirn’s novel, unaware the whole project was already in development with a screenplay having been written up by Turner. In the warped world of Oscar prognostication, Reitman hitching his name up to what is now perceived to have been a double-published script smacks of Oscar Consolation Prize Game strategizing. It stands to reason, given the Academy’s now clear affinity for the middlebrow wunderkind. But compare the filmographies of the two, and tell us it’s not clear that only one of them has another script under his belt to rival Air’s smug self-satisfaction.

Oscar 2010 Nomination Predictions Director

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Oscar 2010 Nomination Predictions: Director
Oscar 2010 Nomination Predictions: Director

The director category is starting to feel like an anniversary party we’re not sure we want to go to anymore. Nothing against Kathryn Bigelow, whose taut direction of The Hurt Locker certainly merits its slot in this lineup. We’re just a little bit tired of having her all-but-certain presence in the category doubly commoditized—first by virtue of the fact that she owns a vagina and, second, because she’s expected to compete (and, so the fanboys tell us, lose) against her bloated ex-husband James Cameron, who ripped off Bollywood to bring you the biggest, most expensive tree-hugger manifesto of all time. Yes, it’s anecdotally historic for exes to find themselves dual frontrunners in any category, much less a category wherein women have been nominated only a few more times than have been nominated for Best Actor. Call us hard to impress, but when this category sees its first dissolved civil union faceoff, maybe then we’ll consider printing off the gift registry at CB2.

Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions Director

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Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Director
Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Director

Jason Reitman’s Juno, they tell us, is a possible spoiler in the Best Picture race, but few seem to think its director stands a chance of winning here. Either fans of the film are content perpetuating the myth that comedies, like Little Miss Sunshine, direct themselves, or they really think Juno is only as good as Diablo Cody’s screenplay. Except Reitman accomplished what Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris could not, and that was scoring an actual nomination in this category, suggesting that even the most sensible Academy branch likes the film more than just for Juno’s screechy verbal pyrotechnics. Still, the consensus seems to be—and we didn’t need the Globes to tell us this—that folks are more fond of the effusive visual textures Julian Schnabel applies to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly like a gauze than they are of Reitman’s Crayola set. Even without a Best Picture nomination, Schnabel shouldn’t be discounted, though Tony Gilroy’s impeccable aping of Sydney Pollack’s sleepy-time career work probably should. And with There Will Be Blood slowly climbing to the very tippy-top of IMDB’s Top 250 (this week it’s at #18), you’d have to be a loon to think the Coens have this one locked. For all its acclaim, No Country for Old Men simply doesn’t inspire the same fervid, almost-certifiable affection fanboys (and fangirls) have heaped on Paul Thomas Anderson’s live-action cartoon. Of course, There Will Be Blood may also be the most divisive film in this lot, so if PTA loses here it’s not really because more people like No Country for Old Men but because there are not enough people who can stomach There Will Be Blood. But the DGA already had its say, so if you know how the DGA-to-Oscar transition rates go, you also know where to place your cards on Oscar night.

One-Note Wonder: Juno

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One-Note Wonder: <em>Juno</em>
One-Note Wonder: <em>Juno</em>

Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody has described herself as a “naked Margaret Mead,” a cultural anthropologist who for years studied the rites and rituals of the stripper tribe in lieu of the nine-to-five grind. It’s a great line and a quite telling one, for this writer’s scientific approach to life is precisely why Juno ultimately fails. Watching the tale of the eponymous heroine (Ellen Page) navigating an unplanned teenage pregnancy from conception to adoption, I couldn’t help but think Cody was still channeling Margaret Mead through her quirky dialogue. Like Mead, Cody doesn’t form an emotional connection with her subjects. Juno is a character to be studied intellectually, not felt as flesh-and-blood. Page does her best to fill in Juno with her own heart and soul, but it’s like trying to breathe life into a blow up doll. Juno’s waist expands, but her depth does not.