By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Countdown To Cannes: Tommy Lee Jones

The first in a series of snapshots outlining the eighteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

in-the-electric-mist-tavernier-lee-jonesBackground: American; born San Saba, Texas, 1946.

Known for / style: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The Fugitive, TV’s “Lonesome Dove” series, No Country for Old Men; The Good Old Boys; a gruff, dour disposition; acting in (and directing) Westerns, both contemporary and period.

Notable accolades: As directing is still a sidebar to the Tommy Lee Jones franchise, Jones’ acting awards usually receive first bill. At the top of the list is his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1993’s The Fugitive, but close behind are his three other Academy Award nominations (Best Supporting Actor, Lincoln, 2012; Best Actor, In the Valley of Elah, 2007; Best Supporting Actor, JFK, 1992). Jones also won Best Actor at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which he directed. He also can brandish a fistful of BAFTA, Emmy, and Golden Globe nominations.

Film he’s bringing to Cannes: The Homesman, an Old West oater adapted from the 1988 novel by Glendon Swarthout (Where The Boys Are, The Shootist). From the IMDb plot summary: “A claim jumper and a pioneer woman team up to escort three insane women from Nebraska to Iowa.” Winning both the Spur and the Wrangler awards for Best Western Novel of 1988, The Homesman is the seventh film to be adapted from Swarthout’s canon. The film features Oscar-noted  talents Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Meryl Streep and John Lithgow.

Previous Cannes appearances: Tommy Lee Jones’ only Cannes appearance (as director) is 2005’s The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which played in Competition. It won Jones the Best Actor prize.

Could it win the Palme? On the acting alone, any film with Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, and Tommy Lee Jones is going to be intimidating. But Jones is directing inside his favorite milieu with the American Old West, and he’s wrangled Academy Award-nominated Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (The Wolf of Wall Street, Argo, Brokeback Mountain) to capture the glorious environments and Academy Award-nominated Marco Beltrami to score the film. While Oscar voters and Cannes juries rarely align, it’s still hard to discount the forces at work here, and the artistic merits of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada speak to the strength of Jones’ directorial whip-cracking. If The Homesman leaves the South of France empty-handed, it could mean that we have a very strong slate indeed.

Why you should care: Like a cowboy and his rifle, Jones and good Westerns go hand-in-hand. Fans of the genre should look forward to one made by someone who clearly loves them, and Jones has brought along Western veterans and Oscar favorites for the ride. With The Homesman, we’ll also check in again on Hailee Steinfeld, whose last Western outing earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod (2010’s True Grit). If nothing else, though, expect this film to gallop its way into a number of awards categories later in the year.

Follow Jake Howell on Twitter: @Jake_Howell

2 Responses to “Countdown To Cannes: Tommy Lee Jones”

  1. Tina Ellis says:

    One of my favorite actors!!!! If Tommy Lee Jones is in it you can bet he’s bring his A game. Anxiously awaiting its arival in the states!!!

  2. Michelle Schulz says:

    I can not wait!! For the release of this film. The trailer is wonderful. Tommy Lee Jones has another Classic Western on his hands!!!

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Tsangari: With my next film, White Knuckles, it comes with a budget — it’s going to be a huge new world for me. As always when I enter into a new thing, don’t you wonder how it’s going to be and how much of yourself you are going to have to sacrifice? The ballet of all of this. I’m already imaging the choreography — not of the camera, but the choreography of actually bringing it to life. It is as fascinating as the shooting itself. I find the producing as exciting as the directing. The one informs the other. There is this producer-director hat that I constantly wear. I’ve been thinking about these early auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges—all of these guys basically were hired by the studio, and I doubt they had final cut, and somehow they had films that now we can say they had their signatures.  There are different ways of being creative within the parameters and limitations of production. The only thing you cannot negotiate is stupidity.
Filmmaker: And unfortunately, there is an abundance of that in the world.
Tsangari: This is the only big risk: stupidity. Everything else is completely worked out in the end.
~ Chevalier‘s Rachel Athina Tsangari

“The middle-range movies that I was doing have largely either stopped being made, or they’ve moved to television, now that television is a go-to medium for directors who can’t get work in theatricals, because there are so few theatricals being made. But also with the new miniseries concept, you can tell a long story in detail without having to cram it all into 90 minutes. You don’t have to cut the characters and take out the secondary people. You can actually put them all on a big canvas. And it is a big canvas, because people have bigger screens now, so there’s no aesthetic difference between the way you shoot a movie and the way you shoot a TV show.

“Which is all for the good. But what’s happened in the interim is that theatrical movies being a spectacle business are now either giant blockbuster movies that run three hours—even superhero movies run three hours, they used to run like 58 minutes!—and the others, which are dysfunctional family independent movies or the slob comedy or the kiddie movie, and those are all low-budget. So the middle ground of movies that were about things, they’re just gone. Or else they’re on HBO. Like the Bryan Cranston LBJ movie, which years ago would’ve been made for theaters.

“You’ve got people like Paul Schrader and Walter Hill who can’t get their movies theatrically distributed because there’s no market for it. So they end up going to VOD, and VOD is a model from which no one makes any money, because most of the time, as soon as they get on the site, they’re pirated. So the whole model of the system right now is completely broken. And whether or not anybody’s going to try to fix, or if it even can be fixed, I don’t know. But it’s certainly not the same business that I got into in the ’70s.”
~ Joe Dante

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