Film News

Top 10 of 2007

1) Television saved the film star

Friday Night Lights, we love you. We love your smart scripts, we love your great cast, and we love you even more for keeping our film crews (mostly) employed for two seasons, as the big Hollywood projects continue to swerve around us to New Mexico and Louisiana. Lights isn't alone. The CBS pilot Swingtown, about three swinging Seventies married couples living in the Chicago suburbs, also shot in Austin in 2007. And Dallas is feeling the love for Prison Break, which is calling the Metroplex home for a second straight year.

2) Strike that

We'd love those television series even more if they were actually shooting to start 2008. But the Writers Guild of America is on strike in a battle with producers to get a share of online sales. Who will flinch first? Will this drag into negotiations between producers and the Screen Actors Guild? Will late-night talk shows be funny without scribes? Will jaded audiences care? Stay tuned.

3) Texas gets friendly incentives

It's admittedly not as much as offered by New Mexico and Louisiana, but the Texas Legislature did approve a $20 million film/video incentives program that is expected to bear fruit this year. The film industry united to form the Texas Motion Picture Alliance and to get the job done. But, thanks to Sen. Steve Ogden, it all comes with a rider prohibiting funding for projects that portray Texas in a negative light.

4) Spiro leads Austin's indie onslaught

Count Ellen Spiro as Austin's shining independent film star of 2007. Body of War, the University of Texas film prof's Iraq war saga, was named best documentary by the National Board of Review and is one of 15 docs short-listed for the Oscars. Expect the five noms to be announced Jan. 22. That wasn't all. Troop 1500, from Spiro and Karen Bernstein, took two Gracie Awards: the Outstanding Documentary-Long Format prize and Outstanding Director for Spiro.

5) Eska is a close second

Runner-up for shining star of the Central Texas film scene is Chris Eska, whose August Evening follows an aging, undocumented farmworker and his widowed daughter-in-law as their lives are turned upside down. It's a nominee for Film Independent's Spirit Awards' John Cassavetes Award for the best feature made for less than $500,000. (The awards happen Feb. 23.) August Evening, which shot primarily in Gonzales, Texas, already won Eska the $50,000 Target Filmmaker Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival. It's been picked up for theatrical release by Maya Entertainment. Also making waves are Laura Dunn, whose Austin environmental epic, The Unforeseen, is up for the Spirit Awards' Truer Than Fiction Award, and Jeff Nichols, whose Shotgun Stories, the tale of a feud between two sets of half-brothers after the death of their father, received the Narrative Feature Jury Award at the Austin Film Festival.

6) Putting on the Ritz

Here's betting the nexus of the 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival will be the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz. It seems like yesterday that Tim and Karrie League were wringing their hands over how to save the original Alamo Drafthouse amid rising Warehouse District rents. Poof, the original is history, and the Ritz has proudly taken its place. Save me a seat for SXSW, and preorder me a pizza and a thick chocolate milkshake.

7) Marfa, film capital of the world?

Last year I semijokingly opined that Marfa – which last knew fame when my Realtor pal Barb Dawson was an extra in Giant – was the new film capital of Texas after hosting the lensing of There Will Be Blood and part of No Country for Old Men. Now comes word that the Los Angeles Film Critics Association picked There Will Be Blood as the best film of 2007, while the New York Film Critics Circle chose No Country for Old Men. Oscars, anyone?

8) Pegged for mumbling

SXSW Film programmer Matt Dentler had a big hand in solidifying the low-budget, improvisational, talky film craze now dubbed mumblecore when he programmed and tub-thumped such entries as Joe Swanberg's winning Hannah Takes the Stairs (and other less-notables) at 2007's Fest. (SXSW has been rallying around Swanberg since screening his debut feature, Kissing on the Mouth, in 2005.) Then filmmaker Andrew Bujalski, who acted in Hannah, cemented the Austin connection by shooting his mumblecore follow-up to Mutual Appreciation here.

9) The horror! The horror!

Count 2007 as the year Fantastic Fest cemented its place as the self-described "best in new science-fiction, fantasy, horror, animation, crime, Asian, and all around badass cinema." During his keynote address at the International Film Festival Summit in Las Vegas, Variety Publisher Charlie Koones went so far as to include it on a list of "10 Film Festivals We Love." Meanwhile, the Weinstein Co. and Lions Gate jointly picked up the Austin-shot horror flick Teeth and its scary vagina dentata. Look for this horrific trend to continue with Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors convention, Jan. 18-20, at the Renaissance Austin Hotel, and the shooting of a Friday the 13th remake in the Austin area soon.

10) Stars! Stars! Stars!

Julia Roberts, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Watson, Willem Dafoe, Ryan Reynolds, and Hayden Panettiere. And that's just the cast list for Bastrop-shot Fireflies in the Garden. The tween set had to go to New Braunfels to watch twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse (The Suite Life of Zach and Cody) shoot Kings of Appletown. John C. Reilly played Stubb's – in character! – as his Walk Hard alter ego, Dewey Cox. All this in the same year People magazine closed its Austin bureau. Expect a paparazzi onslaught in 2008 if Brad Pitt and Sean Penn do indeed arrive for the filming of Terrence Malick's Tree of Life.

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Top 10s, Friday Night Lights, Swingtown, Prison Break, WGA strike, Texas Motion Picture Alliance, Steve Ogden, Ellen Spiro, Body of War, Karen Bernstein, Chris Eska, August Evening, Laura Dunn, The Unforeseen, Jeff Nichols, Shotgun Stories, Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, Marfa, Matt Dentler, mumblecore

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