Hanks and 'The Enemy:' The 13th Annual Chicago Film Critics Awards
By Collin Souter
Posted 03/04/01 01:50:02
Last Monday (2/26/01), I had the distinct pleasure of attending the press conference for the 13th Annual Chicago Film Critics Association Awards. Ellen Burstyn, Benicio Del Toro, Patrick Fugit, and Tom Hanks attended the ceremony. This article details the highlights of the press conference, the ceremony and a probe into my own little fanatical psyche. Enjoy.
The possibility of Tom Hanks actually being at the 13th Annual Chicago Film Critics Awards had me daydreaming the entire day. Finally, in his presence, I could say ‘thank you.’ But, seriously, would Tom Hanks really show up? Well, his performance as a FedEx troubleshooter stranded on an island for four years in “Cast Away” won over many of my friends who belonged to the CFC organization. He and Paul Newman will be in town for a couple months to act in Sam Mendes new film, “The Road To Perdition.” And, hey, he has a reputation for being an all-around nice guy, an everyman. So, when you think about it, his showing up to accept a Best Actor award in Chicago wouldn’t be all that far-fetched. Finally, a chance for me to thank him.
Back to reality for a moment, the reality being pretty damn good in its own right. The list of celebrities who would be attending kept my mind active. What should I ask them at the press conference? Ellen Burstyn, Benicio Del Toro, Patrick Fugit (of “Almost Famous”), Fred Willard and (please, God, let it be true) Tom Hanks would be attending.
MOST PROMISING ACTOR: PATRICK FUGIT FOR “ALMOST FAMOUS”
Boy, has this kid grown. With his almost shoulder-length hair, he looks more like Crispin Glover than the “dark and mysterious” 15-year-old Rolling Stone reporter from the movie, where he reminded me of Bud Cort in “Harold and Maude.” Now 18 and living in his hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah, he has grown four inches since filming wrapped, but he hasn’t really broke character. He looks just as eager-to-please, dumbfounded by his surroundings and incredibly humble as he did in Cameron Crowe’s film.
“What have you been doing lately?” a reporter asked.
“I’m sitting around in Salt Lake City,” he replied. “I’ve been reading scripts and there’s a few hopefuls on the line right now, but nothing for sure yet.”
One reporter asked Patrick if he feels any pressure to carefully choose his next project, this last one being so high-profile.
“Yeah,” Patrick said. “I’m very confused as to what to do next, and frightened that I might make the wrong choice…people expect a lot.” At that point, I wanted to shout, “Please, don’t do any movies with the word ‘Dude’ in the title.” But I had to maintain my journalistic integrity.
Writer-director Crowe did not waste any time after filming “Jerry Maguire” to begin his talent search. He searched all over Canada, England and the States to find the perfect embodiment of his younger self. When asked why Fugit thought he had been selected out of thousands of hopefuls, he seemed a bit baffled himself.
“I don’t know, you’d probably have to ask him,” he said. “From what I’ve been told, it was my, uuuhh…green-ness. The fact that when I went into that room for the audition I was very nervous, just as the character should be, and I had that kid-who’s-been-swept-into-everything kind of Alice-In-Wonderland expression on my face all the time. Other than that, you’d have to ask him.”
I asked him if there had been any moments in his life similar to William Miller’s in “Almost Famous” that made him decide he wanted to be an actor.
“I’ve always been interested in acting,” he replied. “Mostly comic acting, Buster Keaton kind of stuff. My best friend and I, we’ve always been into Laurel and Hardy quite a bit, so I’ve always had an interest in the theater side of acting.”
When asked if he had any favorite scenes in the film, he replied: “I’ve always enjoyed watching Phillip (Seymour Hoffman) and Billy (Crudup). As for my favorite shots and sequences, I like the ending montage, with Tangerine, and I like the little shot where Kate’s dancing in the auditorium with all the napkins and roses and ‘The Wind’ is playing.”
I asked Fugit why he thinks Crowe inserted that shot, as it had always been my favorite as well.
“It is a nice touch,” he agreed. “He’s very much involved in putting little bits of reality and emotion, true emotion, into the film, and I think that little scene just lets you see a side of Penny, and she’s just a little girl, the child in her. He’s got a bunch of shots in there that let’s you see their reality.”
One reporter asked Fugit if he encountered any “movie-aids” while filming, similar to the “band aids” in the film. “No,” he replied. “Mostly I was working. I’d hang out with Anna Paquin and Billy Crudup a lot. I never got to meet any of the extras. I’ve gotten letters from some of the extras, but that’s about it.”
BEST FOREIN LANGUAGE FILM, BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY, BEST SCORE AND MOST PROMISING ACTRESS: ZHANG ZIYI FOR “CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON”
If Tom Hanks decided to stay home to eat shellfish, but Zhang Ziyi did show up to grace us with her beautiful, porcelain Goddess-ness, I would have been okay with that. “Oh, to be in the same room with Zhang Ziyi,” I thought. “The same girl who whooped the asses of an entire bar full of thugs with Hulk-like biceps and pretentious names. I think I would have to ask for her hand in marriage!” I had to hit myself, as I started to sound like a stalker guy I knew who had this obsession with Isabella Rossilini.
As it turns out, Ziyi did not show up. Instead Sony Pictures sent the film’s editor, the winner of the young-William Hickey look-alike contest, Tim Squyres. Squyres accepted quite a challenge for this awards show, since he would have to come up with four separate acceptance speeches. It seemed a logical choice to send the editor, since the editor has to look at the movie more than anyone else. That, and they couldn’t find anybody else state-side who had been heavily involved with the film. The reporters in the room did not hesitate to ask about the now-famous tree-top sequence.
“Last night, I was in Los Angeles for the American Cinema Editors Awards,” he said. “And everyone asked me, ‘how did you do all that green-screen,’ and we didn’t do any. It was all practical. It was all hanging from these cranes in this forest. They spent two weeks on that. It’s the kind of flying that everyone wants to try, because it looks like fun, and it is for about the first 20 minutes, and then it starts getting really uncomfortable, and then when you’re doing it all day every day for about two weeks, which is how long it took for them to do that scene, it’s physically brutal.
“That section in particular, the action choreographer, Yuen Wo Ping, tried to talk Ang out of doing that. He said ‘it’s not going to look good.’ In Chinese martial arts films, there’s a lot of things happening in bamboo tree forests, but down on the ground, not up in the treetops. In thinking about the difficulty of it, they told him ‘you’re taking a big risk. It just won’t work,’ and a lot of it didn’t. We pared it way down, using only the shots that worked the best. It was very, very difficult. I wasn’t there, of course. I was home in New Jersey.”
I asked him about the opening action sequence between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi, where his cuts and Tan Dun’s music work in perfect synchronicity. Which came first, the cuts or the music?
“In that case,” he replied, “while I was assembling the film, the first time we screened it, I edited in a heavy percussion track of Japanese drumming, and nobody ever considered doing anything different because it worked so well. I told my assistant who was in the back controlling the volume to, as that scene progresses, just keep turning (the volume) up, and by the end I want to see people’s clothes rippling from the sound. So, it began with the temp track.”
Squyres graciously fed us tidbits of behind-the-scenes information about all the other outstanding fight sequences in the film, the most memorable being about how the aforementioned fight scene had been shot out of sequence. It turns out that the last half (in the courtyard) had been shot first, but Michelle Yeoh broke her leg when filming of the scene completed. She went to the U.S. for treatment for six weeks, came back and shot the first half, still limited in movement due to her injuries.
Squyres said that he has signed on to work on Lee’s next film, a movie version of “The Incredible Hulk.” I asked him which Hong Kong action films he likes the most.
“Well, the original ‘Drunken Master’ is great,” he said, starting his list. “‘Once Upon A Time In China’ is great. ‘Iron Monkey’ is great. ‘Tai Chi Master’ is wonderful, that’s a Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh movie. There’s a lot of great ones.”
Since the Chicago Film Critics did not have an editing category, Squires did not win any awards for himself, but did a great job accepting for everyone who won, reminding us that Zhang Ziyi did not speak Mandarin when she started the film, did not know martial arts, did not know swordplay and did not know how to ride a horse.
And the Academy gives an Oscar nomination to Judi Dench for sitting on her ass for two hours?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: BENICIO DEL TORO FOR “TRAFFIC”
“Excuse me, Mr. Hanks,” I said as I approached his Oscar-caliberness, “I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for making what I think is the best movie of your career…Joe Versus The Volcano.”
Yeah, so? I love that movie. I have a deep, soft spot in my heart for that odd little fable.
Apparently, so did Tom Hanks. He didn’t expect to hear that. He took me outside to the balcony away from the hustle and bustle of annoying press piranhas, handed me a cigar, looked out at the horizon, and said to me, “Finally, someone who knows movies.”
Dann Gire, the monerator for the press conference, interrupted my daydream to announce the arrival of the great Benicio Del Toro. Del Toro walked in looking ready for his GQ close-up, his hair looking a bit gray and slicked back, a true movie star in a Marlon Brando sort of way, answering his questions with a bit of mellow uncertainty. When asked how he has been handling his success since being an Oscar nominee for his portrayal as a Mexican law enforcer struggling with his code of ethics, Del Toro, 34, replied, “I’m trying to stay humble.”
The second reporter to ask a question must have been looking over my shoulder at my list of questions. “How familiar were you about drug trafficking when you got involved with the film?”
“I was a drug dealer at one point in my life, “ he joked. “No, I did a TV miniseries a while back called ‘Drug Wars,’ which came out in 91 or 92, one of the first things I did. I was playing the bad guy and during that time I met a lot of D.E.A.’s, where I learned a lot about what was going on. I’m not a scholar or anything but I knew a couple stories and I new a couple names of good guys and bad guys, and I remained friends with some of these D.E.A.’s. Actually when I did ‘Traffic,’ I grabbed the phone and I said, ‘Listen I need some people in Tijuana, can you hook me up?’ And they helped me a lot with the research.”
Another reporter asked how America should address the drug problem. “Well, I’m no politician, I’m not running for office,” Del Toro replied after a long pause. “I think what the movie says, it’s important. It’s important to educate at an early age, and it’s important to educate families about that problem. I think when you have a 15-year-old who’s, like, smoking speed or crack, that’s terrible. And I think that we should work on the demand side. But I also think it’s terrible to put a man in jail for five years ‘cause they were carrying a bag of marijuana. There should be a different kind of system coming into play, or a kid gets kicked out of school because he has a joint. I mean, that kid’s life might be ruined right there. Schools should work on it, towns, communities.”
I tried to get in a question about director Stephen Soderbergh’s methods for getting his films done quickly, but a reporter cut me off with his question about the response from Mexican law enforcement for Del Toro.
“I read an article in the LA times where a Mexican cop wrote a piece,” he replied. “It was a good piece saying how difficult it is. And I read a lot of Mexican officers who are trying to do the right thing. And, boy, they have it hard. Those police officers who are not willing to submit, to give up, or to sell out to the drug side, they really have it hard. But there are many who are trying to do the right thing. And I think it’s nice to see a Mexican character have a backbone in some ways, even though, you know, you can’t be completely straight-up, because if you are you have to play in this tightrope, and I think that’s the beauty of the part.”
After a couple more failed attempts to get my question in, I finally shouted out my question even though his time had run out. “Stephen Soderbergh is known for being a fast director, what about him makes him get the job done quicker than most other directors like, say, Terry Gilliam? What about him makes him different?”
“I think he knows what he wants, number one,” he kindly answered. “I think he has an amazing ability to get the best out of you, or maybe making you get the best out of yourself. That’s a really interesting quality. He’s very sure of himself. You know, he allows you to explore, to question things.”
Del Toro has been working on a thriller called “The Hunted.” Does he play a good guy or bad guy?
“Uuuh, we don’t know,” he joked. “Hopefully, the editor
will like me.”
BEST ACTRESS: ELLEN BURSTYN FOR “REQUIEM FOR A DREAM”
It slowly started to sink in that Hanks would not do a press conference. Only people whose films need a little push do these, and “Cast Away” certainly did not need Tom Hanks to do a dinky little press conference, since his movie had already grossed $225 million. Darren Aronofsky’s brutal drug-addiction tale “Requiem For A Dream,” on the other hand, needed all the pushes it could get. Its limited theatrical release found too-small of an audience and the MPAA rating, or lack thereof, did not help matters. Not quite NC-17, but not exactly an R either. I asked the exquisite Ellen Burstyn, who played a diet pill drug-addict in the film, for her thoughts on the matter.
“I thought it was a horrendous disservice to the film,” Burstyn, 68, replied. “I don’t think the film deserved the rating they gave it. I think it’s a moral film. If my son were a teenager, I would drag him to see it. I think parents should take their kids to see it. I think it was a rating based on, I don’t know what, I can’t even imagine what they were thinking. I think it was the one shot of the double-dildo that got them. They wanted Darren to take it out and he wouldn’t. And so Artisan chose to then send it out without any rating. I think it’s made it difficult for the film to get distribution. A lot of theaters just won’t show it with no rating.
“My personal opinion is that they’re going to be using this film in film classes for the next 20 years and I don’t think it should have been touched. I think it should have gone out the way it is, which is Darren’s cut, because I think he’s an artist, and I don’t think anyone should have the right to go up and say to any artist, you know, ‘Michealangelo, just move the hand over a little bit,’ you know. And I don’t think that Mayor in New York should not be deciding what is art and what is not art. I was very dismayed by the rating. I think it was wrong.”
Burstyn almost looked like Royalty with her green dress, which from a distance looked like it had jewels and gold raining down it. She seemed extremely grateful to win the award, and commented that she sees herself as the dark horse in the Oscar race. She has been following an Oscar prediction web site, where she and “You Can Count On Me” star Laura Linney have been a tie for second place with Julia Roberts, of course, being the top pick.
“I’ve won more awards than any of the nominees, so I think this would put me over the top,” she said.
Burstyn still works on a TV series, “That’s Life.” She will also serve as Executive Producer for a prison movie, which will air on Lifetime entitled “Their Last Chance,” where she plays a criminal. After that, she will be starring in a movie based on the Rebecca Wells novel, “The Devine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,” with Sandra Bullock as her daughter and Ashley Judd as a younger version of Burstyn.
BEST ACTOR: TOM HANKS FOR “CAST AWAY”
I still had a chance. Even though he did not show up for the press conference, he did win the award and there existed a good chance he would show up to accept it. I sat in the press conference room and watched the ceremony from a 1972 Zenith black and white TV that had tin foil on the antennae. I believe I also saw a dusty ON-TV cable hook-up. Okay, I’m exaggerating.
Anyway, the ceremony went rather smoothly. Fred Willard, who also showed up at the press conference, hosted almost the same way he stole every scene in “Best In Show” as the blissfully ignorant commentator, as he kept following up every “Crouching Tiger” win with a comment, “Boy, that really was a great movie, that Dragon Tiger. I love that movie…or was it Crouching Dragon?…I don’t know. Great movie, though”
Writer/director/actress/comedienne Bonnie Hunt showed up at the ceremony, as well as the press conference, to accept the prestigious “Commitment To Chicago” award, for her contributions to the Chicago film community. Two years ago, Hunt filmed the romantic comedy “Return To Me” in Chicago, which starred David Duchuvny and Minnie Driver. She also wrote, directed and starred in a series called “The Building,” which also featured some of her Second City colleagues playing young adults living in a Chicago apartment building. Hunt had also been treated to a video tribute, which featured Cameron Crowe, Robin Williams and Norman Jewison, as well as her friends and family congratulating her on her success.
Other winners/no-shows for the evening included Best Director winner Stephen Soderbergh for “Traffic,” Best Supporting Actress winner Frances McDormand for “Almost Famous,” and Best Screenplay and Best Picture winner Cameron Crowe for “Almost Famous.” Crowe sent in a video acceptance speech from the set of his latest movie, “Vanilla Sky,” starring Tom Cruise and Kurt Russell. Best Documentary turned out to be a tie. Both Julien Temple’s Sex Pistols documentary “The Filth and the Fury” and Aviva Kempner’s “The Life and Times Of Hank Greenberg” shared the award. Kempner showed up to accept the award and informed us that Walter Matthau’s last film appearance happens to be her documentary where he shares his insights into the life of Hank Greenberg, and not the Diane Keaton comedy “Hanging Up.”
A strange turn of events occurred toward the end of the show, which all but gave away a big secret to the unsuspecting spectators in the auditorium. Film critic Roger Ebert had the duty of giving the Best Actor award, but once he got on stage the people in charge told him to stall. He stalled by giving the Best Picture award to “Almost Famous” and inviting Patrick Fugit on stage to talk about the movie with him. Finally, Roger got the go-ahead to give the Best Actor award, the last award of the evening, unheard of in award show sectors. Gee, I wonder which nominee could be so important as to hold up the show? Could it be, oh I don’t know, Tom Hanks?
Not only did Hanks arrive in Chicago to accept his award, but he received the award from his future co-star, Paul Newman. Newman remarked that he has received one Oscar in his life. Hanks, 44, has won two, as well as countless other awards. Newman listed every single award for which Hanks had either been nominated or he had won. Hanks humorously started yawning and looking at his watch. He then gave a warm acceptance speech.
“If you told me in 1966,” he said, “that I’d be standing here receiving this award, I’d have said you are confusing me with a very lucky man…I have a job, and it’s a great job.” He continued, thanking the woman who did his hair on the film “Cast Away,” as well as thanking the make-up artist, which I could barely hear thanks to the crappy sound from the television and the chatty press people surrounding me.
I gave a message to my friend Erik “The Movieman” Childress to give Hanks my message of thanks if he happened to meet him at the awards party following the ceremony, which pesky little press guys like me could not attend unless we bought a ticket. Hanks did not show up for the party.
So, I guess I’ll use the pages of this newspaper (or web site, depending on where you happen to be reading this) to thank Tom Hanks for starring in a movie that I consider special and unique, a film unappreciated by many and virtually ignored when reading Hanks’ bio in the press kits (yet they never forget “Turner and Hooch”), a film which has continued to inspire my writing and one which always, always cheers me up at the end of a glum day, John Patrick Shanley’s “Joe Versus The Volcano.” I urge those of you who doubt my sincerity to view the film a second time.
Who knows? Maybe this article will wash ashore like a watertight Fed Ex box or tight-as-a-drum suitcase and land in Hanks’ possession. The printing press has strange powers. Just ask the guys who vote in the Chicago Film Critics awards. Their votes brought two Hollywood legends on the same stage together, as well as some of my favorite actors and behind-the-scenes wizards in the same room with me.
I guess I can settle for that.