(Courtesy of Warner Bros.…)
With the ecstatic reactions greeting Friday's surprise, pop-up sneak of Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" and today's news that Warner Bros. has moved Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" to next summer, this year's Oscar race has gained a small measure of early-season clarity.
Anderson's intense character study, which follows the relationship between a drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) and a charismatic religious leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman), cemented its early front-runner status with its secret unveiling Friday at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. Before the scheduled 7:30 p.m. showing of Stanley Kubrick's"The Shining," American Cinematheque programmer Grant Moninger told the audience to remain for a special 70mm screening immediately afterward.
"The scuttlebutt was that it was going to be another Kubrick film, such as '2001,'" says Lee Joyner, director of Cinema Makeup, who was at the Aero that night.
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When "The Shining" finished, Moninger returned to drop the bomb. "The Master" would complete the double bill. Moviegoers briefly exited the Aero, passing Anderson and longtime companion Maya Rudolphin the lobby, for the theater to be readied.
"I'm out there on the sidewalk with an almost evangelical fervor because there were some people, probably about 20% of the audience, deciding whether they should stay," filmmaker Jim Hemphill says. "And I'm telling them, 'Unless you have a dying relative, you should be going back into the theater.' "
Given Anderson's godlike status among cinephiles, the rapturous, early morning social media chatter was hardly surprising. Joyner and Hemphill consider themselves die-hard Anderson fans and are happy to lend their voices to the chorus.
"Like all his movies, he takes risks and he pulls them off," Hemphill says, adding that the connection between the Hoffman character and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard is "there, but never made explicit."
"In some ways, it's to Scientology as 'Boogie Nights' is to John Holmes," Hemphill continues, referencing Anderson's 1997 movie set in the San Fernando Valley porn world. "'The Master' draws from that Scientology story and then turns it into something very different."
Adds Joyner: "I wasn't disappointed by the performances. I did feel the editing showed some mysterious gaps in explanation, as certain important scenes did not have any lead-up to them or you were left wondering where a certain character suddenly appeared from."
Meanwhile, "Gatsby's" move to next summer probably won't change its Oscar prospects other than altering the slate of films it will compete against. Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge!" received eight Oscar nominations, including picture and lead actress, with a May release date. Its shift from Christmas allows Warner Bros. to focus more tightly on its other contenders, including "The Hobbit," "The Dark Knight Rises," "Cloud Atlas" and Ben Affleck's "Argo."
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