As an assistant cameraperson for over six years, writer-director Patty Jenkins learned the ropes of the entertainment industry the hard way: through long hours of toil. But unlike most first time dire...
Monster chronicles a year in the life of one Aileen Wournos for whom the description "downtrodden" is an understatement of the 'nth degree. Wournos is infamous for being the first recognized female serial killer in recent U.S. history and was executed in 2002 for killing seven men between 1989-90 (self-defense she said). Unwanted unloved and largely abandoned by her family in her early teens Wournos became a drifter turning to prostitution along Florida's highways first for acceptance then for sustenance. As this movie tells it with a lifelong history of receiving only abuse and contempt at the hands of nearly every male with whom she came into contact it's clear the very least little thing could push her already unstable mental state right over the edge. That little thing came in the form of one Selby Wall. Wall (a lesbian) comes on to Wournos (not one) at a bar one night with a few kind words: "You're so beautiful you must have men falling all over you " at which point you wonder what planet she's on. An awkwardly fumbling sex scene or two later and off they go on a bizarrely codependent road to ruin that takes them on the run--Wall from her conservative family Wournos from the law as she discovers after one particularly brutal encounter that killing men for their money is quicker easier safer and more profitable than screwing them for it.
Much is being made about Charlize Theron's transformation into Wournos and with good reason. To say she looks like a cross between Jon Voight and William H. Macy is being too hard--on the guys. With her baby blues turned into bottomless brown pools; baby face into pocked sagging jowls; even white teeth into grayish tombstones; and flaxen bob into dishwater blonde '70s-era feathered crop Theron so wholly transforms from bombshell Hollywood star to white-trash hooker it's a more frightening sight than Paris Hilton's night-vision humpathon. Well OK not that frightening. It isn't just Theron's looks that are Wournos from head to toe however; it's as if Theron was channeling the killer her performance (barring a few instances of exaggeration) is that eerie. On some level you're always conscious you're watching Charlize Theron model-turned-actress underneath all the makeup and one wonders if the entire film would have worked better starring a complete unknown . But by the time the credits roll even if you've never heard of or seen Wournos before you'll feel like you knew her personally after watching Theron swagger cuss fight and kill her way through the Sunshine State. In a weird yet rewarding casting choice Christina Ricci effortlessly embraces her role as the lonely and innocent yet ultimately whiny and manipulative galpal Wall.
Had Theron's performance and ungodly appearance not packed such a wallop this movie about a year in the life of a serial killer could have come and gone--truth be told it's an unredeeming look at the tragic end of a completely wasted life from the viewpoint of the loser who wasted it. From the victimizing encounters Wournos has with almost every male she runs across to the calculating machinations of her treacherous girlfriend director Patty Jenkins practically screams "Poor me!" for Wournos from the grave. Though the movie's title refers to the main character it might as well apply to everyone else as the killer comes off more sympathetic than most of her hapless victims who didn't deserve to die just for picking her up on the highway. Opinions about cause and effect aside the moviemaking itself is not up to par. Very little is given to explain Wournos' character other than a few flashback scenes that seem more cursory than anything and are punctuated with a distracting voiceover that tries to replace missing pieces of story--such as why for chrissakes Selby is so attracted to Aileen. For a movie in which the lesbian factor is so important Jenkins ultimately lacks the courage to "go there " pulling back on the whole sex thing and spending far too much time on a weak love story that never really makes much sense.
The nominations for the 2004 IFP Independent Spirit Awards are in, and with more submissions than ever before in the ceremony's history, it looks like a hot race.
Jeff Kleeman, IFP committee chair, had this to say: "With more submissions and less time then ever before, the Nominating Committee watched and discussed over 190 films in six weeks -- an act of extreme devotion that proved to be tremendously rewarding."
Dawn Hudson, IFP executive producer, added that this year's batch of nominees is particularly diverse, and commended the fact there are more highly talented women writers and directors emerging on the independent film scene, including nominees Shari Springer Berman, Sofia Coppola and Catherine Hardwicke.
Films that have been nominated for IFP Independent Spirit Awards were selected based on their original and provocative subject matter, uniqueness of vision, and financial characteristics, including total budget, individual compensation, and percentage of independent financing.
Last year's ISA winners included the film Far From Heaven (best feature), Julianne Moore (best director and lead actress), and Dennis Quaid (best supporting actor).
The 2004 IFP Independent Spirit Awards ceremony will air live on Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. EST on the Independent Film Channel, and will be broadcast at 10 p.m. EST/PST on Bravo.
The nominees for the 2004 IFP Independent Spirit Awards are (by category):
Lost in Translation
Raising Victor Vargas
Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini - American Splendor
Sofia Coppola - Lost in Translation
Jim Sheridan - In America
Peter Sollett - Raising Victor Vargas
Gus Van Sant - Elephant
American Splendor - Writers: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
Lost in Translation - Writer: Sofia Coppola
A Mighty Wind - Writers: Christopher Guest & Eugene Levy and the cast of A Mighty Wind
Pieces of April - Writer: Peter Hedges
Shattered Glass - Writer: Billy Ray
Best First Feature
Bomb the System - Director: Adam Bhala Lough; Producers: Ben Rekhi, Sol Tryon
House of Sand and Fog - Director: Vadim Perelman; Producers: Michael London, Vadim Perelman
Monster - Director: Patty Jenkins; Producers: Mark Damon, Donald Kushner, Clark Peterson, Charlize Theron, Brad Wyman
Quattro Noza - Director: Joey Curtis; Producer: Fredric King
Thirteen - Director: Catherine Hardwicke; Producers: Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Michael London
John Cassavetes Award
Anne B. Real - Director: Lisa France; Writers: Lisa France, Antonio Macia, Producers: Josselyne Herman, Luis Moro, Jeanine Rohn
Better Luck Tomorrow - Director: Justin Lin; Writers: Ernesto M. Foronda, Justin Lin, Fabian Marquez; Producers: Julie Asato, Ernesto M. Foronda, Justin Lin
Pieces of April - Writer/Director: Peter Hedges; Producers: Alexis Alexanian, John S. Lyons, Gary Winick
The Station Agent - Writer/Director: Thomas McCarthy; Producers: Mary Jane Skalski, Robert May, Kathryn Tucker
Virgin - Writer/Director: Deborah Kampmeier; Producer:Sarah Schenck
Best First Screenplay
Blue Car- Writer: Karen Moncrieff
Monster - Writer: Patty Jenkins
Raising Victor Vargas - Writers: Peter Sollett and Eva Vives
The Station Agent - Writer: Thomas McCarthy
Thirteen - Writers: Catherine Hardwicke & Nikki Reed
Best Female Lead
Agnes Bruckner - Blue Car
Zooey Deschanel - All the Real Girls
Samantha Morton - In America
Elisabeth Moss - Virgin
Charlize Theron - Monster
Best Male Lead
Peter Dinklage - The Station Agent
Paul Giamatti - American Splendor
Sir Ben Kingsley - House of Sand and Fog
Bill Murray - Lost in Translation
Lee Pace - Soldier's Girl
Best Supporting Female
Shohreh Aghdashloo - House of Sand and Fog
Sarah Bolger - In America
Patricia Clarkson - Pieces of April
Hope Davis - The Secret Lives of Dentists
Frances McDormand - Laurel Canyon
Best Supporting Male
Judah Friedlander - American Splendor
Troy Garity - Soldier's Girl
Djimon Hounsou - In America
Alessandro Nivola - Laurel Canyon
Peter Sarsgaard - Shattered Glass
Best Debut Performance
Anna Kendrick - Camp
Judy Marte - Raising Victor Vargas
Victor Rasuk - Raising Victor Vargas
Nikki Reed - Thirteen
Janice Richardson - Anne B. Real
Elephant - Harris Savides
In America - Declan Quinn
Northfork - M. David Mullen
Quattro Noza - Derek Cianfrance
Shattered Glass - Mandy Walker
Best Foreign Film
City of God (Brazil)
Lilya 4-Ever (Denmark)
The Magdalene Sisters (England/Ireland)
The Triplets of Belleville (France)
Whale Rider (New Zealand)
The Fog of War
Mayor of the Sunset Strip
OT: our town
While at AFI, made five short films including "Velocity Rules"; selected in the shorts program at the 2001 AFI Fest
Worked as an assistant cameraperson for six years on commercials and music videos in New York
Directed first major motion picture "Monster," with Charlize Theron playing Aileen Wuornos. Based on the true story of a female serial killer executed by lethal injection in 2002
Moved to Los Angeles to attend the American Film Institute's Directing Program
As an assistant cameraperson for over six years, writer-director Patty Jenkins learned the ropes of the entertainment industry the hard way: through long hours of toil. But unlike most first time directors, Jenkins knew the ins and outs of working on set before directing her first feature, "Monster" (2003), the true-life story of Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute executed in 2002 in Florida after being convicted of murdering six men. Despite her inexperience as a director, Jenkins elicited a bravura performance from her lead actress, Charlize Theron, who created a tremendous amount of Oscar buzz.
Jenkins grew up in Kansas with Beat Generation heavies William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg as neighbors. A young Jenkins spent much of her spare time at the local cinema where she saw all kinds of movies. Though she later considered this her "film education", it never occurred to her at the time to be a filmmaker. After high school, Jenkins attended Cooper's Union in New York to study painting, but quickly traded her brushes for a camera package. Jenkins spent the next six years as a cameraperson on commercials and music videos for directors Tarsem and Brett Ratner. After this period, Jenkins moved to Los Angeles to attend the American Film Institute's Directing Program, where she made five short films that ranged in genre and form, including the female superhero short, "Velocity Rules" (2001). The short was selected to be shown at the 2001 AFT Fest.
It was because of her entry into the AFI Fest that Jenkins was able to pitch her story about Wuornos, the first female serial killer to be executed in the state of Florida. Manager Brad Wyman liked the pitch and signed on to produce. Though they barely able to crack seven figures with the budget, Jenkins managed to score top talent to play her main character. In fact, Theron waived her usual fee in exchange for a producing credit, and later put up her own money for finishing costs.
Meanwhile, Jenkins contacted Wuornos on death row in order to make sure that she would tell the story as accurately as possible-a result of the tabloid-style journalists who labeled Wuornos a monster fit to be killed. Wuornos was executed during pre-production, an event that strengthened Jenkins's resolve to tell her story in the most realistic and honest way as possible. The result of her hard efforts was a film that was hailed all around the festival circuit: it was nominated for three 2004 Independent Spirit Awards, and was voted one of the 10 best films of 2003 by the American Film Institute. Meanwhile, critics heaped praise on Theron, who became a top contended for an Oscar nod. Not bad for someone who just a few years ago didn't consider a career in filmmaking.
New York’s Cooper Union
Center For Advanced Film Studies, American Film Institute