By Sarah Skilton

Bening vs. Swank
This year’s Oscar Showdown between Best Actress is very familiar. Once again Hilary Swank and Annette Bening go head-to-head. In 2000 they faced a similar situation; Swank was nominated for BOYS DON’T CRY and Bening for AMERICAN BEAUTY, with Swank claiming victory.This time around, Bening is up for BEING JULIA, in which she (not surprisingly) gives due diligence to the role of an aging actress, receiving some of the highest marks in her career in the process. Swank plays a boxer in the Clint Eastwood-directed MILLION DOLLAR BABY. Will she emerge 2 for 2, or concede to Bening this time? And will it be DiCaprio for THE AVIATOR or Jamie Foxx for RAY? Check out the big show live on February 27.

Shades of Gray

Paparrazi-bait Jennifer Garner is in final negotiations to play a woman named Gray in the upcoming film CATCH RELEASE, written and directed by Susannah Grant. Grant previously received an Oscar nom for her screenplay ERIN BROCKOVICH and also wrote Sandra Bullock’s laffer 28 DAYS. CATCH RELEASE is an ensemble dramedy and a departure for Garner, whose big-screen roles thus far have included a stoner’s girlfriend in DUDE, WHERE’S MY CAR?, a ditzy prostitute in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, a 13 YEAR OLD GOING ON 30, and of course the title character in ELEKTRA, the DAREDEVIL spin-off that pretty much tanked last month. Hopefully CATCH RELEASE will better showcase her more serious acting chops, as well as remove the pressure of carrying a film by her lonesome. It’s been speculated that the reason few people went to see ELEKTRA is because they can already watch Garner kick butt for free on her weekly series ALIAS, so hopefully they will be willing to check her out in a completely different capacity.

When the script opens, Gray is mourning the death of her fiancé, and ends up moving in with his ex-roommates while they all deal with the loss in their own way. She also discovers quite a few disturbing secrets about the man she loved, and bonds with one of his previously unknown friends in a manner that surprises them both.

Despite the sad, touching subject matter, the dialogue and situations are extremely funny and I believe Garner is perfect for the role. Audiences tend to accept television stars making the transition to film only when they are part of a team, so this is an excellent opportunity for Ms. Garner to expand her fan base and provide a future for herself post-ALIAS.

Indie Watch - Sundance’s Little Brother
While most of my brethren shivered at Sundance, I checked out the Palm Springs International Film Fest a mere hour and a half away. Considered among the top 10 U.S. Festivals, they showcase 200 films over a 12 day period. At the opening Gala, Nicole Kidman was awarded the festival’s Chairman’s Award, and Samuel L. Jackson (now appearing in COACH CARTER) received a Career Achievement Award for Acting.

Ironically my favorite film wasn’t a foreign language one, but did take place entirely on location in Spain and starred WB heartthrob Joshua Jackson. The film is called AMERICANO and was written and directed by relative newcomer Kevin Nolan.
Anyone who has ever traveled abroad and not wanted to come home will feel a joyous and melancholy pull during this movie. Known primarily for his role on DAWSON’S CREEK, Joshua Jackson is utterly charming as a twenty-something American back packer. The entire movie seems real, which makes his dilemma (to return to the States and a new but unspecified corporate job, or stay in Spain) relatable, meaningful and important, in a way that, say, saving the earth from a meteorite never will be.

There were a few technical difficulties: sound in particular and some shaky DV camera-work, but it’s all authentic, particularly the thrilling Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. And talk about dedication: The actors performed the run twice, without any insurance! In one scene, you can actually see Josh patting a bull as it runs by him.

Though the tale is simple, it’s no less profound. The romance between Jackson and the gorgeous Leonor Varela, playing free spirited Adele, grows in a fashion you believe; the kissing scenes appear unrehearsed and heartfelt, not lip-smacking embarrassing. If and when this film gets wide distribution, it’s an excellent date movie. And if romance isn’t your thang, go simply to see the Spanish countryside in all its glory. You’ll feel like you traveled with the characters, and you may never want to return.


© Melt Magazine 2005