Everything was classy in New York this week. The Museum of the Moving Image threw a black-tie gala salute for Tom Cruise as a benefit for its education department, and the actor kept his crazy in check to deliver a humble thank-you. Cruise's fellow glitterati, meanwhile praised the actor's work ethic and common touch. Miramax gave a dose of its own glamor, hosting the New York premiere for the Coen Brothers horrific new film and chased it with a lovely little well-catered reception. And bringing a new event to the Big Apple is always a logistic challenge, but the Other Israel Film Festival discovered the difficulties of trying to do the right thing.
A restrained Cruise respectfully receives praise
Cipriani's majestic 42nd street digs were an appropriately grandiose location for the Museum of the Moving Image's annual black-tie gala benefit, which on Tuesday night paid tribute to megastar extraordinaire, Tom Cruise. Guests in formal-wear invaded the photographers' line to see the arrivals; attendees included Julianne Moore, Tim Robbins, and Oliver Stone, but all eyes were on the main star of the evening. Cruise took his time, dutifully posing and chatting with every reporter, while wife Katie Holmes stood by, gorgeous and quietly supportive, and sporting no limp despite having run in the New York City marathon two days earlier.
A consistent portrait emerged among the evening's presenters. "[He's] a tireless, relentless, sometimes exhausting advocate for the project," said Ron Howard. "He generously doles out praise to cast and crew alike at the end of a long day," said Tim Robbins. "He has a determination that audiences love," said Kenneth Branagh. "He's proven time and again that he gets things done," said Oliver Stone. "He was eating from catering," said Julianne Moore, adding "stars don't do that." While notes regarding his acting ability were a bit limited, everybody was struck by his unusually dogged work ethic and his democratic spirit.
That said, lately the actor has also been known for his antics during public appearances, and the audience was probably hoping he'd freak out a little -- praise Scientology, over-love his wife, cite urban legends as a cue to bash psychiatry. It was a little disappointing, then, when he gave a restrained, respectful speech more in line with the pleasant Tom Cruise described by the speakers than with the spastic Tom Cruise seen on talk shows; he even devoted a good portion of his speech to discussing MoMI's education program, saying "There's no museum like this that I've seen, anywhere. While others may thank you for what you do, and its importance to the world of film and cinema, let me instead tell you...precisely the lives you can effect through the education programs you are involved in." Classy, right? It's no "I LOVE THIS WOMAN!!," but it's nice.
Incidentally, the museum has a dynamite week of programming coming up, with preview screenings of "No Country For Old Men" with Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin in attendance, "I'm Not There" with Todd Haynes, Esther Robinson and her Berlinale-winning documentary "A Walk Into Water," "Margot at the Wedding" with Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" with Julian Schnabel and the entire cast, as well as a conversation between Ang Lee and James Schamus. All in one week.
The Coens and Miramax Toast "No Country for Old Men"
On Wednesday night, Miramax held the official New York premiere for Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men" at the Walter Reade Theater. Miramax president Daniel Battsek opened the event remarking, "there's something very special about presenting a new film from these particular filmmakers in this particular town. I'm incredibly excited about the fantastic reaction we've been having to the movie."
As well he should be: "No Country" ranks among the finest of the Coen brothers' films, returning to some of their most consistent themes (chiefly the frustrating, inevitable downfall of poorly thought-out plans) while abandoning their usual ironic distance. Roger Deakins' cinematography looks fantastic, but that's where the stylization ends, as the Coens allow the story to unfold with startling naturalism in superbly executed, terrifying sequences. Javier Bardem is a nightmare as an unstoppable killer with Uncle Fester's face and Cousin Oliver's hair, the most terrifying cinematic creation since Michael Meyers. Josh Brolin is a real discovery as the friendly trailer-dwelling slacker who runs horrifically afoul of Bardem after pilfering $2 million from the grisly remains of a shoot-out.
The Coen's kept their own opening remarks short, pausing briefly the thank the cast; Joel Coen noted their choice to keep the film without a score, saying "Carter Burwell did the music that isn't in the movie." Those audience members who wished to socialize after the film stepped across the hall to an unusually decked-out Furman Gallery for the reception, where they were joined by the likes of Frances McDormand, Gretchen Mol and Willem DaFoe. "No Country For Old Men" opens on Friday.
With friends like these...
On Thursday, the first annual Other Israel Film Festival will open at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center with the World Premiere of Rokaya Sabbah's "On Hold," the story of an Arab-Israeli couple preparing to move to Spain. The Other Israel Film Festival is a unique collection of films made by Arab citizens of Israel, with the difficult aim of being as apolitical as possible. "We felt that political films and political discussions are done all the time, with respect to Israel" said Isaac Zablocki, head of film programming at the JCC. "What we really wanted were films referring to Arabs in Israel as part of society -- films dealing with women's issues, social issues, the realities of day-to-day life."
It's an interesting position for a film festival to take, particularly a festival thrown primarily by Jews regarding Arabs; unfortunately, the current political climate means that there has, almost inevitably, been backlash from both sides. While there have been a number of Arabs who have helped with selection and logistics (chief among them actor/director Mohammad Bakri), there were no Arab groups willing to co-sponsor the project. Says Zablocki, "We kept getting responses back saying the same thing: 'We applaud your festival, but we cannot partner with a festival that has Jewish and Israeli partners.'" Backlash from the Jewish community was a bit surprising; while Zablocki predicted some of the hard right-wingers would be angry by any attempt to work with the Arab community, they were not the only ones who wouldn't help. "This Israeli Consulate is usually very open-minded; they support everything Israeli in the States. Even though this is dealing with Israeli citizens, they wouldn't support this."
Despite this, there's been a slew of positive reaction worldwide, and the Other Israel Film Festival is looking to travel both to Israel and around the world, as well as post some of the shorter films on iTunes. "These films are rarely screened, and they're gems," says Zablocki, "and we want to reach as many people as possible."
The festival runs until November 15, with films such as "Empathy," a sort of Israeli "Crash" wherein the multiple stories intersect, told in reverse chronological order, and "Roads," the story of a 13 year-old drug dealer trying to escape from the slums of Lud. On Saturday night, the JCC will host a performance by and discussion with the Arab Israeli hip-hop group Dam.