Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Oscars wrap

I really don't have much to say about Oscar night 2008. It was, on the whole, an unexceptional ceremony, which simply means that most of the stars were tastefully dressed and the Academy didn't commit any howling fallacies on the order of awarding "Crash" Best Picture. In fact, most of the winners were actually...gulp...deserving! even if they weren't necessarily my first choice.

Of course, the downside of Hollywood being on its best behavior is that it's, well, boring. We don't need a "Crash" upset, but where's Björk playing swan or Michael Moore ranting about fictional presidencies when we need 'em? Still, considering how little time the Academy had to put this show together, I think they did a decent job. Jon Stewart got some good lines in as host, and seemed more relaxed than he did the first time he took the gig.


"Once" winning for Best Song, Jon Stewart bringing Markéta Irglová back out so she could actually speak (good on him), and her lovely speech...genuinely uplifting because it was so clearly heartfelt.

Tilda Swinton's acceptance speech (She was also very funny on the red carpet: "I'm standing in a flower bed.")

Brad Bird on discussing his career path with his guidance counselor ("I said, I want to make movies. He said, What if you couldn't make movies? I said, I'd find a way to make movies. He said, What if movies didn't exist? I said, I'd have to invent them." Bravo, Brad, for never giving up the dream. You're an inspiration to us all.

Daniel Day-Lewis kneeling before the Queen, aka Helen Mirren. Have they ever been in a movie together? If not, they should.

"Bourne Ultimatum" winning all three awards it was up for...even if it resulted in my losing my Oscar pool. That was a damn good movie. If all "blockbusters" were that good, I wouldn't object to blockbusters.

DUMBEST MOMENT: Owen Wilson translating "Le Mozart des Pickpockets." But it's nice to see him back on his feet and smiling.

MOST DISAPPOINTING MOMENT: Toss-up between "Juno" winning original screenplay (though that was a foregone conclusion) and Amy Adams' performance of "Happy Working Song." It's not her, it's the lack of props and accoutrements. Where's her pretty princess dress and the CGI rats and roaches? Trust me, folks, this song is a lot funnier in the context of the movie. Oh well, at least she sang it well.

MOST OMINOUS MOMENT: Jack Nicholson chuckling "heh heh heh" just before reading some scripted line about films highlighting our "humanity," or something like that. Um, what does he know? I'm convinced he knows when the apocalypse is. He may even have some hand in it.

WORST OMISSION: Where were Roy Scheider and Brad Renfro in the Dead People Montage?


Amazingly, almost everyone looked really good. For the women, the theme of the night was The Red and the Black - with a handful of standout exceptions, like Amy Adams, who looked stunning in dark green, Keri Russell (sooo pretty as always), Marion Cotillard (the mermaid look actually worked on her), and radiantly pregnant Jessica Alba (hate to admit it, but I can't deny her hotness) and Cate Blanchett in purple. Not that the ladies in red weren't striking, too: for once Anne Hathaway didn't overdo the makeup, Katherine Heigl pulled off the nod to Marilyn, and Helen Mirren, man, is such a silver fox...I can only hope I look that good when I'm her age. Nicole Kidman looked radiantly pregnant, too, though she was wearing an awful lot of bling to go with her black gown. Oh yeah, and the men. Clooney dapper as always, darling wee Scot James McAvoy scruffy and adorable. Thought his skit with Josh Brolin (whom I'm starting to find more attractive) was funny and cute - more than I can say for the Seth Rogen-Jonah Hill pairing, which for me fell quite flat.

BEST RED CARPET MOMENT: Laura Linney, my personal goddess, rescuing Jennifer Garner from Crazy Gary Busey. Every time I see Gary Busey I think of him in "Entourage." Linney looked lovely, too; it's easy to forget what a good-looking woman she is cause she so rarely plays up her sex appeal. Garner looked uncomfortable, and not just because of Crazy Busey.

RUNNER-UP RED CARPET MOMENT: Viggo Mortensen, on being asked why he decided to take his (very cute) niece to the Oscars - "I like her." Awww...I love you, Viggo! The beard, not so much.

No disasters that I can recall offhand, sartorial or otherwise...Oh well, I guess every once in a while Hollywood does things right. Ditto the Academy. I'm quite proud of them this year, and quite disdainful of those who make much ado about Oscar "relevance" and the fact that "no one" saw the nominated movies. Nathaniel R. has a a terrific and passionate rebuttal of this disparagement on The Film Experience, to which I have nothing to add but: Amen. Preach it, brother!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oscars Predictions Time

And lo, as the writers' strike passeth away, the voice of the Oscar was heard once more in the land...

While there are obviously much more important reasons to be glad that the strike is finally over, I have to admit that I personally am extra glad that it ended in time to ensure a proper Oscars ceremony, in all its excruciatingly drawn-out, star-studded, self-important glory...the more so since the Academy, in my humble opinion, didn't do too shabby a job this year in its nominations (with the one glaring exception of the Foreign Language Film category), and the race for Best Picture is still very much open (though it seems to have narrowed a bit in the past couple of weeks). So, with just under 6 days left till showtime, I'll venture some predictions and comments on the major awards:


NOMINEES: No Country for Old Men; There Will Be Blood; Michael Clayton; Atonement; Juno

WILL WIN: No Country for Old Men, though none of the candidates are really out of the running except for Atonement, which has about as much chance of winning as I do of dating James McAvoy (who's married anyway, alas).

SHOULD WIN: There Will Be Blood - the most dazzling and powerful film of a generally strong batch.

I WILL BE PISSED IF: Juno, an engaging movie but clearly out of its class here, pulls an upset.


NOMINEES: Ethan & Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men; Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood; Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton; Jason Reitman, Juno

WILL WIN: The Coen brothers. Schnabel has a sporting chance of coming from behind, more so than any of the others, but as a painter-turned-director with a notoriously outsized ego, he comes across as a bit of an arrogant Johnny-come-lately, albeit one who's displayed an impressive knack for the filmmaking thing. The Coens, by contrast, have been doing great work for over a decade now, they're at the top of their game with No Country, and the movie has been just too lavishly and uniformly praised not to reward with at least one of the biggest prizes of the night.

SHOULD WIN: For sheer dynamic vision and imagination, I'd give it to PTA, but I can't quarrel with the favorite here. The Coens displayed a remarkable discipline and aesthetic rigor that somehow enhanced rather than inhibited the film's fluidity, and made some tough decisions that, in retrospect, were absolutely the right calls to make.


NOMINEES: Julie Christie, Away From Her; Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose; Ellen Page, Juno; Laura Linney, The Savages; Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age

WILL WIN: I think Christie will pull it out, though Cotillard has mounted a formidable challenge with her (reportedly) dead-on evocation of the late great Edith Piaf. Don't count out the precocious Page, either, who has a slim but by no means illusory chance of riding on the wave of Juno's extraordinary success...Page is Juno, and whether one loves her or (like me) couldn't stand her, she's become one of the most memorable film characters of the year.

SHOULD WIN: I haven't seen Cotillard's film (or Blanchett's for that matter, not that I think I missed much with the latter), and so decline to state a position.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Tang Wei made her screen debut in Ang Lee's Lust, Caution and knocked it not just out of the park but out of the stratosphere. Amber Tamblyn gave a humdinger of a performance as a pregnant-teenager-in-denial in the little-seen Stephanie Daley. The film (which also co-starred Tilda Swinton) was too small for Tamblyn to get the recognition she deserved, but having been fortunate to see a screening of it early last year, I feel obliged to give her the nod.


NOMINEES: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood; George Clooney, Michael Clayton; Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd; Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises; Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah...Elah...Elah...eh...eh...eh...er, sorry. Rihanna earworm.

WILL WIN: Daniel Day-Lewis. For anyone betting in an Oscar pool, do not waste any time even thinking about this one. Just check the box next to his name and accept the fact that no one is gaining any advantage from this category.

SHOULD WIN: Have to give it up for my man DDL, with the caveat that I haven't seen In the Valley of Elah. All I know is that in a bonanza year for superb male lead performances, DDL still managed to tower head & shoulders over the rest. Think Zeus on Olympus.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Frank Langella as an aging, one-time literary giant poignantly holding on to his dignity in the under-seen, under-promoted Starting Out in the Evening; Gordon Pinsent, who more than held his own opposite Julie Christie in Away From Her and has been criminally passed over by every awards body in this country; Tony Leung, who gave both mystery and shading to the difficult role of political oppressor and fundamentally elusive soul in Lust, Caution.


NOMINEES: Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There,; Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone; Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton; Ruby Dee, American Gangster; Saoirse Ronan, Atonement

WILL WIN: Very uncertain - this is by far the most wide-open race among the major awards. Blanchett's channeling of Bob Dylan (or someone very like him) in I'm Not There was impressive, but may have reminded too many voters that Blanchett got the Oscar for her comparable trick of channeling Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator just a few years ago. Ryan swept many of the earlier awards and critics' prizes, but seems to have lost some momentum recently. Dee has the sentiment factor going for her, but her role was really, really itty-bitty, if undeniably memorable. As for Ronan, although this award frequently favors fresh faces, the general coldness towards Atonement (it's this year's Cold Mountain, I think) will probably hurt her chances, especially since the Academy doesn't feel, as it may have felt in Renee Zellweger's case, that it owes any overdue compensation for past performances. That leaves Swinton, a respected veteran of the indie and art film circuit with a smaller but solid track record in more commercial fare, in a much better position than at the beginning of Oscars season. As of this writing, I'll go with Swinton.

SHOULD WIN: Haven't seen Gone Baby Gone, but among the others, Swinton stands out as Clooney's compromised corporate adversary, poised so precariously between her outward, ever-thinning veneer of professional composure and her internal, rapidly metastatizing lump of desperation. It's a hard trick to evoke simultaneous feelings of fear, revulsion, and sympathy from the viewer, and Swinton manages to do it seamlessly.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Jennifer Garner, who for me was the single best thing about Juno. Taraji Henson was terrific in the generally overlooked Talk to Me (which also featured a fine lead performance by Don Cheadle that in a weaker year for actors might have been given more attention).


NOMINEES: Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men; Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild; Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War; Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

WILL WIN: Bardem. See note for Best Actor, above.

SHOULD WIN: Among this lot, can't say, not having seen either Charlie Wilson's War or Jesse James.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Paul Dano, who went toe to toe with Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood and emerged as a vivid and unnerving character in his own right; Josh Brolin, who, for my money, gave the best performance in No Country for Old Men, not Bardem; Max Von Sydow, who upstages Hal Holbrook as this year's Bereft Father (Figure) in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.


NOMINEES: Juno; The Savages; Ratatouille; Michael Clayton; Lars and the Real Girl

WILL WIN: Juno, by a mile. More's the pity, as it's also the most flawed of the ones I've seen (all except Lars, which I missed).

SHOULD WIN: Ratatouille, easily the most original and at the same time most delightful script of not only this group but the entire year.


NOMINEES: No Country For Old Men; There Will Be Blood; Atonement; Away From Her; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

WILL WIN: No Country For Old Men

SHOULD WIN: I'd be happy with any of them winning, actually, as they are all excellent and imaginative adaptations that, far from merely transferring, actually transform their source material. I'll give a slight preference to Diving Bell for making what could have been a very static and/or overly abstract memoir of adversity into an unexpectedly mobile, delicate, even whimsical work that succeeded in capturing both the poetry and the pathos of its protagonist's experience.


Ratatouille will edge out Persepolis for Best Animated Feature. No End in Sight will take Best Documentary. If No Country takes Film Editing, which it probably will, look for it to win the Big One (best picture) - historically there's a strong correlation between the two awards.

For everything else, your guess is as good as mine - I've found Entertainment Weekly, in the past, to be pretty reliable in its predictions, especially for the smaller, the-hell-should-I-know awards.

I reserve the right to change any of the above predictions between now and 5:00 PDT on Sunday, February 24.

In the meantime, happy Oscar-wagering and viewing to all of you who are so inclined, and tune in this time next week for my recap of the ABC telecast of the ceremony!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Obama is Not Jesus, and Hillary is Not the Antichrist

At some point I'm going to write my own thoughts about this, but there are plenty of lucid and intelligent editorial pieces in circulation that address both halves of this (shouldn't-be-but-is) controversial proposition. Among the best - by which, of course, I mean the ones most in accord with my opinions:

Kathleen Geier at Talking Points Memo discusses how, even though she herself voted for Obama, she's beginning to get the heebie-jeebies from starry-eyed Obama supporters. She's not the first to raise the dread word "cult," but she may be the first to substantiate her misgivings with sound criticism of his campaign, or at least, some of his most enthusiastic campaigners.

Stanley Fish has been plumbing the depths of Hillary-hatred and dryly noting that the comments in response have provided further vindication of his thesis: anti-Hillaryism is quite out of proportion to anything it subject has done, and seems to feed on itself, independent of any external stimuli.

Paul Krugman observes with dismay the bitter divisiveness that's arisen in the Obama-Clinton race and bluntly opines that it's the Obamans that are contributing the most to it. Like Geier, but with considerably more exasperation, he voices skepticism that they can ever lay their differences aside to vote for a Democratic candidate that isn't Obama (i.e., Hillary).

As you may guess, I agree. This, you see, is my fear, too: that if Obama DOESN'T get the nomination, his supporters will be so mad they won't vote for Clinton, or worse, may actually vote for McCain out of spite. I fail to understand the reasoning - assuming there is any - behind the latter course: the idea that McCain is any more principled than Clinton, or any less of a politician, is simply ludicrous. I say this as someone who respects them both, but fears the consequences of a President McCain...

That said, it's looking to me like Obama's momentum, aided, alas, by the aforementioned anti-Hillaryism, as well as a collective Democratic anxiety to see this thing wrapped up, is going to carry him to the nomination sooner rather than later. But by now, as we've all learned, it's never a good idea to count a Clinton out. They're made of tuff stuff.

More on all this later....

Oh, and for anyone wondering if I'm ever going to talk about movies again, the answer is YES! Now that the writers' strike appears headed for resolution, I project a redirected focus on the Oscars as February 24 draws nearer. It will be an exciting race this year, that's for sure, full of worthy contenders (and the usual share of "wtf?"s).

In the meantime, to tide you over, M.S. Smith over at Where the Stress Falls has a characteristically thoughtful and well-observed piece on "I'm Not There" a film we and another of our friends finally saw this past weekend.

And lastly, Self-Styled Siren has a fine tribute and farewell to the great Roy Scheider ("Jaws," "The French Connection," "All That Jazz"), who may always remain underrated but will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

If it's Tuesday, I must be undecided...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Cinescopes the Book

Last summer I gave a brief shout-out to Cinescopes, the supercool joint project of my friend Ezra Werb and his friend Risa Williams. Cinescopes stems from the simple yet brilliant idea that you can identify a personality type, or at least certain common personality traits, based on a person's favorite movies. Ezra and Rise identified and described sixteen core personality types, then matched a HUGE list of movies to the type or types each movie was likely to appeal to - so that based on your list of top ten movies, you can ascertain which type you are.

Well, in addition to the web site, they also managed to write a fabulous BOOK that was published last fall! I have a copy, and you all should get one too: it should be available at your local Barnes & Noble, or on amazon.com.

And there's still more exciting news: the authors will be featured on CBS's THE EARLY SHOW this Tuesday, Feb. 5! Yes, that day also happens to be Super Tuesday, but there's no reason why any prospective voter can't also catch the show before heading off to the polling booths. The show runs from 7-9 am; word is that Ezra and Risa will be on some time during the second half, but that's not certain. I will provide any updates if I hear any more.

But in the meantime, buy the book and/or visit the web site!