Seven years ago Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" had its world premiere at the Telluride film festival and the heartwarming comedy-drama went on to sweep the Oscars, winning Best Picture and seven more awards including one for the director. On Saturday he brought his new biopic "Steve Jobs" to this Rocky Mountain town as a "work in progress," which he is still tweaking prior to its Oct. 9 release. Based on the overwhelmingly positive response here, little if anything needs to be done to this strong Oscar contender for Universal.
Michael Fassbender earned rave reviews for his portrayal of the mercurial inventor. Over the course of 120 minutes, he spars with the likes of Oscar champ Kate Winslet ("The Reader") as Joanna Hoffman, a member of the original Mac team; Seth Rogen as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak; and Emmy winner Jeff Daniels ("The Newsroom") as Apple CEO John Sculley.
Aaron Sorkin adapted Walter Isaacson's 2011 best-selling biography of the same name. The film — which takes place over 14 years — is divided into three parts each of which focuses on the launch of an iconic product by Jobs: the Macintosh computer in 1984, the NeXT Cube computer in 1988 (following his exit from Apple) and the iMac in 1998, which heralded his return to the company he co-founded.
Sorkin has gone one for two at the Oscars in Best Adapted Screenplay, winning in 2010 for the similary-themed "The Social Network" and losing in 2011 for "Moneyball" to "The Descendants.' He also has six Emmys for "The West Wing" — one for writing, four for producing the Drama Series champ and one as a producer of a 2002 documentary. He ranks first in our early odds for Best Adapted Screenplay at this year's Oscars.
Lensing, done in three different formats — 16mm (1984), 35mm (1988) and high-def digital (1998) — is by Alwin H. Kuchler ("Divergent," "Hanna") who won a British Independent Film Award for "Morvern Callar" (2002). Oscar nominee Elliot Graham ("Milk") deftly handles the quick cuts. And Daniel Pemberton's ("The Man from U.N.C.L.E.") score echoes the rhythm of the dialogue. He is a two-time BAFTA (Games) nominee.
Fassbender sits in fourth place on our Oscar prediction chart for Best Actor, with the backing of two of our experts. In first place is five-time Oscar also-ran Leonardo DiCaprio for his performance in "The Revenant," Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's first fllm since taking home three Oscars last year for writing, directing and producing Best Picture champ "Birdman."
Critics singled out Fassbender in their rave reviews (see below). After reading these excerpts, be sure to make your Oscar predictions for Best Actor. Don't worry, you can keep changing them right up until nominations are announced on Jan. 14.
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter) notes, "while Fassbender doesn’t closely physically resemble the man, he fully delivers the essentials of how we have come to perceive the man: Along with intellectual brilliance and force of personality, the actor also taps into the man’s frequently unreachability, power to inspire, unswerving faith in his own instincts, attention to the smallest detail, utter lack of sentimentality and the certitude that can come from occupying a different, loftier realm. Most of all, you get the strong sense from Fassbender of a mind that is always several steps beyond everyone else’s, one that allows him to shift gears without taking a breath."
Justin Chang observes, "writer Aaron Sorkin, director Danny Boyle and star Michael Fassbender have given their subject the brilliant, maddening, ingeniously designed and monstrously self-aggrandizing movie he deserves. Blowing away traditional storytelling conventions with the same withering contempt that seems to motivate its characters’ every interaction, 'Steve Jobs' is a bravura backstage farce, a wildly creative fantasia in three acts in which every scene plays out as a real-time volley of insults and ideas — insisting, with sometimes gratingly repetitive sound and fury, that Jobs’ gift for innovation was perhaps inextricable from his capacity for cruelty."
Sasha Stone (Awards Daily) concludes: "Boyle gives the film over to the writing and to the film’s lead performance, a stunning knockout by Michael Fassbender as Jobs. Boyle gives us breathtaking shots of Jobs in various stages of his professional life. He filmed nearly the whole thing in three different theaters in San Francisco and much of the action is confined to those spaces."
Pete Hammond (Deadline) reports: "It’s actually thrilling to listen to, like an action movie driven almost exclusively by words, a rare sight for sure in today’s visually influenced cinema."
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Photo: Michael Fassbender in "Steve Jobs." Credit: Universal Pictures