Top 10 of 2007
BY JOE O'CONNELL
1) Television saved the film star
Friday Night Lights, we love you. We love your smart scripts, we love
your great cast, and we love you even more for keeping our film crews
(mostly) employed for two seasons, as the big Hollywood projects
continue to swerve around us to New Mexico and Louisiana. Lights isn't
alone. The CBS pilot Swingtown, about three swinging Seventies married
couples living in the Chicago suburbs, also shot in Austin in 2007. And
Dallas is feeling the love for Prison Break, which is calling the
Metroplex home for a second straight year.
2) Strike that
We'd love those television series even more if they were actually
shooting to start 2008. But the Writers Guild of America is on strike in
a battle with producers to get a share of online sales. Who will flinch
first? Will this drag into negotiations between producers and the Screen
Actors Guild? Will late-night talk shows be funny without scribes? Will
jaded audiences care? Stay tuned.
3) Texas gets friendly incentives
It's admittedly not as much as offered by New Mexico and Louisiana, but
the Texas Legislature did approve a $20 million film/video incentives
program that is expected to bear fruit this year. The film industry
united to form the Texas Motion Picture Alliance and to get the job
done. But, thanks to Sen. Steve Ogden, it all comes with a rider
prohibiting funding for projects that portray Texas in a negative light.
4) Spiro leads Austin's indie onslaught
Count Ellen Spiro as Austin's shining independent film star of 2007.
Body of War, the University of Texas film prof's Iraq war saga, was
named best documentary by the National Board of Review and is one of 15
docs short-listed for the Oscars. Expect the five noms to be announced
Jan. 22. That wasn't all. Troop 1500, from Spiro and Karen Bernstein,
took two Gracie Awards: the Outstanding Documentary-Long Format prize
and Outstanding Director for Spiro.
5) Eska is a close second
Runner-up for shining star of the Central Texas film scene is Chris
Eska, whose August Evening follows an aging, undocumented farmworker and
his widowed daughter-in-law as their lives are turned upside down. It's
a nominee for Film Independent's Spirit Awards' John Cassavetes Award
for the best feature made for less than $500,000. (The awards happen
Feb. 23.) August Evening, which shot primarily in Gonzales, Texas,
already won Eska the $50,000 Target Filmmaker Award for Best Narrative
Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival. It's been picked up for
theatrical release by Maya Entertainment. Also making waves are Laura
Dunn, whose Austin environmental epic, The Unforeseen, is up for the
Spirit Awards' Truer Than Fiction Award, and Jeff Nichols, whose Shotgun
Stories, the tale of a feud between two sets of half-brothers after the
death of their father, received the Narrative Feature Jury Award at the
Austin Film Festival.
6) Putting on the Ritz
Here's betting the nexus of the 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival
will be the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz. It seems like yesterday that
Tim and Karrie League were wringing their hands over how to save the
original Alamo Drafthouse amid rising Warehouse District rents. Poof,
the original is history, and the Ritz has proudly taken its place. Save
me a seat for SXSW, and preorder me a pizza and a thick chocolate milkshake.
7) Marfa, film capital of the world?
Last year I semijokingly opined that Marfa – which last knew fame when
my Realtor pal Barb Dawson was an extra in Giant – was the new film
capital of Texas after hosting the lensing of There Will Be Blood and
part of No Country for Old Men. Now comes word that the Los Angeles Film
Critics Association picked There Will Be Blood as the best film of 2007,
while the New York Film Critics Circle chose No Country for Old Men.
8) Pegged for mumbling
SXSW Film programmer Matt Dentler had a big hand in solidifying the
low-budget, improvisational, talky film craze now dubbed mumblecore when
he programmed and tub-thumped such entries as Joe Swanberg's winning
Hannah Takes the Stairs (and other less-notables) at 2007's Fest. (SXSW
has been rallying around Swanberg since screening his debut feature,
Kissing on the Mouth, in 2005.) Then filmmaker Andrew Bujalski, who
acted in Hannah, cemented the Austin connection by shooting his
mumblecore follow-up to Mutual Appreciation here.
9) The horror! The horror!
Count 2007 as the year Fantastic Fest cemented its place as the
self-described "best in new science-fiction, fantasy, horror, animation,
crime, Asian, and all around badass cinema." During his keynote address
at the International Film Festival Summit in Las Vegas, Variety
Publisher Charlie Koones went so far as to include it on a list of "10
Film Festivals We Love." Meanwhile, the Weinstein Co. and Lions Gate
jointly picked up the Austin-shot horror flick Teeth and its scary
vagina dentata. Look for this horrific trend to continue with Fangoria's
Weekend of Horrors convention, Jan. 18-20, at the Renaissance Austin
Hotel, and the shooting of a Friday the 13th remake in the Austin area soon.
10) Stars! Stars! Stars!
Julia Roberts, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Watson, Willem Dafoe, Ryan
Reynolds, and Hayden Panettiere. And that's just the cast list for
Bastrop-shot Fireflies in the Garden. The tween set had to go to New
Braunfels to watch twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse (The Suite Life of Zach
and Cody) shoot Kings of Appletown. John C. Reilly played Stubb's – in
character! – as his Walk Hard alter ego, Dewey Cox. All this in the same
year People magazine closed its Austin bureau. Expect a paparazzi
onslaught in 2008 if Brad Pitt and Sean Penn do indeed arrive for the
filming of Terrence Malick's Tree of Life.
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