In this Britney-and-Beyonce-obsessed age 'tis a wonder anyone other than an art history buff knows who Rembrandt is let alone that other Dutch painter guy--what'shisname Vermeer. In fact very little is known about the 17th-century painter who died in debt at 43 and left most of his works including his most famous of a young girl wearing a pearl earring shrouded in mystery. Girl With a Pearl Earring is director Peter Webber's adaptation of the 1999 Tracy Chevalier novel that spun a gauzy fiction about the painter's unrequited obsession with a young maid who became his muse and the subject of said painting. The maid in question is Griet (Scarlett Johansson) whose tilemaker father's accident forces their family into poverty and her into servitude--and it's no picnic. Morose henpecked Vermeer (Colin Firth) hides in his studio away from the household which includes the puffy and pampered wife (Essie Davis) he keeps eternally pregnant; her tyrannical domineering mother (Judy Parfitt) who brazenly solicits work for Vermeer from patrons like rich lecher Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson); and a multitude of Vermeer brats. Full-lipped and nubile the servant Griet becomes the artist's secret obsession--he spies on her cleaning his studio teaches her about painting (or at least how to make his paints) and seduces her while painting her portrait behind his wife's back.
With little dialogue to speak Johansson's Griet is a study in silence. Her wide-eyed earnest stares and Mona Lisa smile do the talking for her proving a picture certainly can say a thousand words. She may get more attention for Lost in Translation but this is her vehicle. Johansson's quiet understated performance makes the others look that much more overstated--Wilkinson's vulgar mustache twirling art patron for example and Davis's jealous and ranting Catharina Vermeer for another although they too are very solid turns. Firth's Vermeer fades into the background surrounded by these big personalities understandably and fittingly so; he's the brooding artist who'd be far happier left alone to gaze upon his subject. Although the master and the servant never do much more than exchange looks the sensual energy between them is palpable.
This movie is beautiful absolutely stunning--it's as if cinematographer Eduardo Serra saw Vermeer's life through the artist's eyes and that vision comes through in exquisitely framed and lit shots. Some scenes--of young lovers walking along a tree-lined canal in fall light beaming across the girl's face as she cleans the studio's beveled windows--are literally breathtaking. Just as an artist's work is tactile so does this film feel--in the sounds of a heavy knife chopping vegetables and a spatula grinding pigment into paste…volumes are spoken in the clean white crispness of Griet's bonnet. First-time helmer Webber occasionally allows the camera to hang too long (a lip-licking scene in extreme close-up for example) but he creates a fully enveloping period and confidently leads his cast through this fairly thin story. You can pretty much guess what you're in for with a movie about a 17th-century Dutch master; knowing that if there's any criticism to be made it's that the pic feels every bit of its 95 minutes long. A lovely score by Alexandre Desplat also deserves a mention although it sometimes overwhelms scenes with unwarranted portentousness.
Steven Soderbergh's crime-drama "The Limey" and Alexander Payne's high school satire "Election" led the pack of (relatively) low-budget, high-expectation projects as nominations were announced Wednesday for the 15th Annual Independent Spirit Awards, honoring, yes, indie film.
"The Limey" and "Election" received a field-best five nominations each. Hollywood blockbusters such as "Toy Story 2" and "The Green Mile" received zippo. (They're not indies.)
With the studio heavyweights excluded, a variety of films that failed to garner tremendous box office during the 1999 film season found redemption as the Spirit nominations were handed down. David Lynch's "The Straight Story", a simple yet powerful film about an aging man's trek across country on his lawn mower, earned four nominations. Kimberly Peirce's controversial "Boys Don't Cry" also received four nods -- including ones for best lead actress (Hilary Swank) and best supporting female (Chloe Sevigny).
The five films slated to do battle in the main best-picture event are: Payne's "Election," Soderbergh's "The Limey," Lynch's "The Straight Story," Allison Anders and Kurt Voss' "Sugar Town", and Robert Altman's "Cookie's Fortune".
Awards will be handed out in Santa Monica on March 25 -- the day before the Oscars. The Spirits are sponsored by the Independent Feature Project/West.
The following is the complete list of nominations for the 15th annual IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards:
BEST FEATURE "Election" "The Straight Story" "The Limey" "Cookie's Fortune" "Sugar Town"
BEST FEMALE LEAD Diane Lane, "Walk on the Moon" Janet McTeer, "Tumbleweeds" Hilary Swank, "Boys Don't Cry" Susan Traylor, "Valerie Flake" Reese Witherspoon, "Election"
BEST MALE LEAD John Cusack, "Being John Malkovich" Richard Farnsworth, "The Straight Story" Terence Stamp, "The Limey" David Strathairn, "Limbo" Noble Willingham, "The Corndog Man"
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE Barbara Barrie, "Judy Berlin" Vanessa Martinez, "Limbo" Sarah Polley, "Go" Chloe Sevigny, "Boys Don't Cry" Jean Smart, "Guinevere"
BEST SUPPORTING MALE Charles S. Dutton, "Cookie's Fortune" Luis Guzman, "The Limey" Terrence Howard, "The Best Man" Clark Gregg, "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole" Steve Zahn, "Happy, Texas"
BEST DIRECTOR Alexander Payne, "Election" Harmony Korine, "julien donkey-boy" Steven Soderbergh, "The Limey" David Lynch, "The Straight Story" Doug Liman, "Go"
BEST SCREENPLAY Kevin Smith, "Dogma" Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, "Election" Audrey Wells, "Guinevere" Lem Dobbs, "The Limey" James Merendino, "SLC Punk!"
BEST FIRST FEATURE ($500,000-plus budget) "Being John Malkovich" "Three Seasons" "Boys Don't Cry" "Twin Falls Idaho" "Xiu Xiu the Sent Down Girl"
BEST FIRST FEATURE (less than $500,000 budget) "The Blair Witch Project" "La Ciudad" "Compensation" "Judy Berlin" "Treasure Island"
BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE Kimberly J. Brown, "Tumbleweeds" Jessica Campbell, "Election" Jade Gordon, "Sugar Town" Toby Smith, "Drylongso" Chris Stafford, "Edge of Seventeen"
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY Tod Williams, "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole" Charlie Kaufman, "Being John Malkovich" Kimberly Peirce and Andy Bienen, "Boys Don't Cry" Anne Rapp, "Cookie's Fortune" John Roach and Mary Sweeney, "The Straight Story"
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHER M. David Mullen, "Twin Falls Idaho" Lisa Rinzler, "Three Seasons" Anthony Dod Mantle, "julien donkey-boy" Jeffrey Seckendorf, "Judy Berlin" Harlan Bosmajian, "La Ciudad"
BEST FOREIGN FILM "All About My Mother" (Spain) "Run Lola Run" (Germany) "My Son the Fanatic" (England) "Topsy-Turvy" (England) "Rosetta" (Belgium-France)
DLJ DIRECT TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD (for documentaries) Owsley Brown, "Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles" Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan, "On the Ropes" Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson, "Well Founded Fear" Rory Kennedy, "American Hollow"
MOVADO SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD (for new directors) Dan Clark, "The Item" Julian Goldberger, "Trans" Lisanne Skyler, "Getting to Know You" Cauleen Smith, "Drylongso"
MOTOROLA PRODUCERS AWARD Pam Koffler, "I'm Losing You" and "Office Killer" Eva Kolodner, "Boys Don't Cry" and "Hide and Seek" Paul Mezey, "La Ciudad" Christine Walker, "Backroads" and "Homo Heights"
What’s the perk of directing a critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning movie? Answer: It guarantees you at least a couple more directing gigs thereafter.
Kimberly Peirce, who cowrote and helmed "Boys Don’t Cry," has inked a two-year production contract with New Line Cinema, trade papers said today.
The first film produced under the deal is said to be an untitled murder mystery based on a true story. It is to be directed by Peirce and cowritten with her "Boys Don’t Cry" writing partner Andy Bienen.
Actress Hilary Swank won this year's Best Actress Oscar for "Boys Don't Cry."
GOING ‘BLONDE’: Daily Variety reports that Matthew Davis of "Urban Legend: Final Cut" fame might star opposite Reese Witherspoon in the comedy "Legally Blonde." The film is about a stereotypical blonde (Witherspoon) and her social-climbing ambitions. Hmmm ... is this "Election 2"?
WHERE’S WINONA? The Hollywood Reporter says that Winona Ryder will make a cameo appearance in the upcoming Al Pacino flick "Simone."
REPORTING ON HECHE: Actress Anne Heche is in early talks to play reporter and TV celebrity Dorothy Kilgallen in a Showtime flick, the Reporter tells us.
THE 'SALVAGE' PROJECT: "The Blair Witch Project" co-director Dan Myrick will helm the post-apocalyptic flick "Salvage." He will team up with actor-writer J.D. Shapiro on the project.
She set an extra-terrestrial free, set some houses on fire and set a new trend in Cinderellas. But who knew Drew Barrymore could make people laugh?
The National Association of Theater Owners, apparently. The 24-year-old actress, who starred in last spring's hit comedy "Never Been Kissed," has been named ShoWest 2000 Comedy Star of the Year, the first actress to receive the award.
The actress, who will be honored at the ShoWest convention March 9, is currently working on the oft-discussed, big-screen adaptation of "Charlie's Angels," co-starring Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu. Now that Drew's a branded funnywoman, does that mean she's taking the Kate Jackson role?
MICHAEL-CATHERINE WEDDING WATCH: After tabloids reported about a possible wedding at the Spanish resort island of Majorca, now comes word that Couple of the Millennium (so far) Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones will likely marry in her native Wales, according to the British weekly magazine Now.
We already know the date: Sept. 25 of this year, when the couple will celebrate their birthday (her 31st, his 56th). The magazine reports the couple will wed at the 200-seat Clyne chapel near Zeta-Jones' hometown of Swansea. Michael's younger brother Eric is quoted as saying, "Catherine wants to please everyone, but it sounds like she's leaning toward a cozy wedding in the town she grew up in."
One concern, he says, is that Zeta-Jones' 84-year-old Granny Zeta would be able to make the trip. But the striking actress doesn't want to insult anyone on Douglas' side, either.
Adds Eric, "Catherine's changed her mind about every 30 minutes since Michael proposed, it's driving her mad trying to decide." And us.
BANNED NO MORE: Chinese director Zhang Yuan, whose work has been acclaimed but long banned by the government, was finally allowed to show his award-winning new movie, "Seventeen Years" in Beijing today.
The film, reportedly based on a true case, is about a 16-year-old who kills her stepsister in a moment of rage, spends 17 years in prison and finally is allowed a brief Lunar New Year visit home, where she confronts the churning but suppressed emotions of her parents. It won the directors' award at the Venice Film Festival.
"It's rather hard to see my films in Beijing. I mean, you can't do it. They didn't pass, so you can only see this one," the director said, adding that he was happy that Chinese audiences could finally see one of his films.
MORE 'BEAUTY': The Las Vegas Film Critics Society named "American Beauty" as best film, but "Boys Don't Cry" grabbed five awards.
The latter film took honors for director Kimberly Peirce, adapted screenplay by Peirce and Andy Bienen, actress Hilary Swank, supporting actress Chloè' Sevigny and most promising actress for Swank.
Kevin Spacey was named best actor for "Beauty," while Haley Joel Osment scored another supporting award for "The Sixth Sense." France's "Autumn Tale" won for best foreign film, "Snow Falling on Cedars" won best cinematography, and "Being John Malkovich" director Spike Jonze won the best newcomer award.
QUICK TAKES: Newsmakers and their friends took time backstage at the American Music Awards to give their two cents. First, Carmen Electra revealed that she and bad-boy ex-hubby Dennis Rodman, to whom she was married for like, two minutes, are considering remarriage. "But right now, I'm taking time off for myself," she said. You might recall that the two were arrested and charged with simple battery after a physical argument.
... Teen pop princess Britney Spears, wearing a jumpsuit with plunging neckline, addressed rampant rumors of a romance between her and Prince William, particularly the bit about their Valentine's date. "I will say we're not meeting on Valentine's Day," Spears said. But have they met? Are they close? She replied, "I don't like to talk about it."
... Rapper/actress/talk-show host Queen Latifah ("The Bone Collector") gave her support for Whitney Houston after the singer's marijuana bust in Hawaii. "Who knows if it was even hers?" Latifah said. "Plus, they've got good stuff in Hawaii!" And she's not talking about the sugar cane, either.