Redford/Pfeiffer, Connery/Zeta-Jones, Etc.
"Now we see what you're really after. You're marrying Fanny because she's young and pretty and you want to rub your leathery old hide up against her soft skin. ... I find it disgusting. I am disgusted."
I'm pretty bad at this. I often think, “I should link that,” but never get around to it. But here's a few articles/posts over the last few days from the usual suspects that are worth reading —or, in one instance, not:
- David Carr returns to form with his post-Oscar analysis, particularly this necessary reminder: “Despite all the planning and guile of production executives, directors, producers and marketing executives, movie magic is still something that occurs in the space between the audience and the screen at the front of the room.”
- Andrew Sullivan stays in form while live-blogging Pres. Obama's speech.
- I missed some of the speech — I was in French class — but heard bits of it on the radio and TV afterwards and may watch the whole thing when I get the chance. In the meantime, I love the way he finds the greater truth between two intractable extremes: “Living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.”
- I read Oliver Willis a lot during the campaign, but he's floundered a bit since, and he's got some pretty ugly ads on his site now. Can't blame him much for that — we live in tough times. But he either needs to stay out of the movie business or dig deeper as to why he feels what he feels. Particularly if he feels, as he says he feels, that “Casablanca” is overrated. To me, he's just showing his youth.
- Researching an article at work, we came across this site about William Henry Harrison, our 9th president, and the etymology of the word “booze,” which is a lot of fun.
- Leonard Cohen returns.
Last minute addition:
- Forgot Tim Arango's great piece on the killing of a newspaper editor in Oakland and how, in an age of cutbacks, a team of investigative journalists was formed to do what the police hadn't done. Someone call “The Wire” guys.
Cagney Quote of the Day
“My best friend gets hit by a streetcar and winds up in the hospital, civil war in Spain and earthquakes in Japan...and now you wear that hat.”
— James Cagney to his girlfriend in “The Great Guy”
Quote of the Day
"Other highlights for me — two faces: Philippe Petit's, for balancing an Oscar on it, and Penelope Cruz, for just having it."
— Adam Wahlberg on the Oscars
Live-Blogging the Oscars
3:50 PM: It won't start for more than an hour but thought I'd try a test run. I also want people to know that I'm not doing the traditional liveblog format with the newest entry highest up — meaning you have to read bottom to top. Here it's top to bottom. Like normal. Apologies if this require frequent scrolling.
Patricia's in the kitchen getting stuff ready, Jellybean's sniffing around, wondering why the furniture's changed. She suspects somethng's up. She's right.
Oscar picks are done. P and I disagree on seven of the 21 categories: Supporting Actress (she: Tomei, me: Cruz), Foreign (she: Bashir, me: Class), Editing (she: Button, Me: Slumdog), Cinematography (she: Dark Knight, me: Slumdog), Art Direction (she: Dark Knight, me: Button) and the Sound categories (she went WALL-E, I went Dark Knight). For what it's worth. Not much.
Watching the red carpet shows. Ryan Seacrest to Danny Boyle: "And you brought people from the slums, did you not?" Yuck. I'm forced to mute it every other second out of embarrassment.
4:35: First guests arrived, Jayne and Alex. Laura, our neighbor down the hall, can't make it because she's feeling under the weather. The men at the party will be bummed even if they don't know it yet.
Ryan Seacrest to Josh Brolin: "Why was it important to tell the story of Harvey Milk?" Sheeeesh. Is it me or does Ryan S. make it seem like he's going out of his way to talk to these, you know, "actors" and "directors"?
Holy smack, Penelope Cruz looks beautiful! And Marion Coutillard. And Javier Bardem. OK, I'll stop or this will be pretty boring. Please forgive. I haven't liveblogged before.
5:00: It begins: Hope Putnam, last year's winner, all of five years old, arrives in her PJs. She's ready for a long show.
On the tube, I like the pans down the dresses of the women. It's something that appeals to both men and women: women like the dresses, men like the pan. On the other hand, how sexist is this? If the camera were my eyes, wouldn't I get slapped?
Hey! They're not starting at 5, after all. It's all red carpet. Was I the only one who didn't know this?
Patricia on Miley Cyrus: "That is SUCH an ugly dress."
I have Mike Smith on my left arguing for "Iron Man" as best picture because there's a purity and snappiness to it. It's not a bad argument. Not a great one, but not a bad one.
Hugh Jackman arrives: Now it begins. I like the open, the song and dance. "How come comic book movies are never nominated/How can a billion dollars be unsophisticated?" And the bit with Anne Hathaway was wonderful. "Oh, Nixon." Seriously, they should do a musical together. Plus the close where he declares himself WOLVERINE. That's a guy who knows how to have a good time.
Supporting Actress: The party reaction to the five former winners talking up the category: "Oh, is this going to be a long night?" "Are they going to do this with sound editor, too?" Etc. But I liked the close-up of Viola Davis tearing up. Very sweet. And now I'm one for one. Penelope! I could listen to her accent all night.
The screenplay awards: Great, great speech by Dustin Lance Black. And love the back-and-forth between Steve Martin and Tina Fey. Please more comedians. Please.
When Slumdog wins for adaptated, my friend Jim, across the room, thrusts a fist into the air and announces "I'm taking no prisoners!"
I have to slow down a bit, join the party, this liveblogging/hosting thing is difficult. Plus I need a beer.
6:22: Beer got. So far no surprises with the awards. We're up to costume design. Nobody in the room (my room) has apparently seen "Australia." No one in the room (my room) has seen and really likes "Benjamin Button." We have about 25 people here. And, yes, now costume design to "The Dutchess." No surprises.
So far we've got a five-way tie for first. Five-way.
6:40: A cinematography win for "Slumdog." And still a five-way tie. Too many of us are apparently reading Entertainment Weekly. Was the Joaquin Phoenix thing necessary? I haven't been paying attention to that news but it seems... not very classy.
I find it interesting, too, that Jessica Biel, in her speech, brought up Thomas Edison, since the reason Hollywood exists is because early filmmakers fled the east coast for the west coast to avoid Edison's litigation.
BTW: Where's Hugh Jackman? He did the opening number and then...disappeared.
6:50: How about Seth Rogan laughing at James Franco's tortured German pronunciation? "It's funny cuz it's German."
Ah, Hugh is back! And he's gonna sing again! Yay!
Wait, is this too Broadway? Well, now Beyonce's there, so... LOVE the way she sings "Dustin' off my tails..." Yes, dust. Please, dust.
7:06: Supporting actor, with five previous winners introducing the five nominees. So apparently it's just for the acting categories. I'll refrain from talking about Philip Seyour's skicap. Other blogs I'm sure are all over it.
OK, I LOVE that they have Christopher Walken introducing Michael Shannon. Shannon could play Walken's son. He should play Walken's son. In some movie somewhere.
But I assume this is Heather Ledger's award. I assume there'll be a standing ovation.
And it is. And there it is. Even so, I'm glad. And unsurprised.
Best documentary: The room (my room) just applauded Philippe Petit's antics and coin tricks onstage. Fun stuff. Everyone, see "Man on Wire." Of course I'd love to see ALL of the docs, as Bill Maher suggested, but most don't play in Seattle, even though it's a pretty good movie town.
The sound awards: How often does the sound mixing and sound editing differ? And do we still call that a Nehru jacket?
I'm on my third beer. I'm still tied for first. It's still a five-way tie.
Actually, after the editing award for "Slumdog," Hope, last year's winner, drops, leaving a four-way tie: me, Jim (who's taking no prisoners) Mike (Hope's dad) and Brenda.
8:09: Sorry for being away so long. I had to take a souvenir bat away from a little girl. Then I tried to take another souvenir bat from a little boy. I suppose I should put the souvenir bats away before the kids arrive.
Hey, one of the first big surprises of the evening! "Departures," from Japan. Everyone should still see "The Class" and "Waltz with Bashir." And it would be nice to see "Depatures," too. But...same problem as before. It's not playing here. I wonder if it'll ever play here.
Memorium time: This is always so sad. Cyd Charisse. Bernice Mac, so young. Nina Foch.... Roy Scheider... I didn't know Manny Farmer died!... James Whitmore and that great scene from "Shawshank"... Charlton Heston... Sydney Pollack... Paul Newman...
I wonder over the lack of Heath Ledger, but Mr. B reminds me that Heath died last January, in time for last year's Oscars, which is when he was remembered. It's so odd. He's been in our consciousness so much this year as the Joker, it's hard to remember he's been dead for over a year already.
We're at best director now, and still in a four-way tie for first. Three of those people, including me, have Mickey Rourke for best actor. And that's the only difference. If Sean Penn wins, Brenda wins. If Mickey Rourke wins, it's a three-way tie for first. That's assuming no big surprises and a come-from-behind win by someone else.
Nope. Danny Boyle.
Oo, good Tigger reference. This is a great speech. Well, until the last line. "Mumbai, you dwarf even this tiny statuette..." Yeah, thanks, dude.
Best actress. Standing o for the women. Very classy. Shirley Maclaine talking up Anne Hathaway is a very, very sweet moment.
Yep, another non-surprise, but, what the hell, I love Kate Winslet, and I love her shampoo bottle reference. And the whistle from her dad! Very cute. Some had disparaged her performance but... let me put it this way. The movie was less imperfect than the book because the movie had Kate Winslet.
Best actor. Wow, that's a helluva roster for the best actor nominees. But why isn't Daniel Day Lewis among them? Last year's winner. And doesn't it take away a bit of a charge, a bit of energy, to have this kind of same-sex intro? Who's Adrienne Brody going to be kissing — Ben Kingsley?
Nice Robert De Niro intro for Sean Penn. And Ben Kinglsey asks the right question with Randy the Ram: Why do we care? It is because of Mickey Rourke. Indeed. Maybe that's why he should win...
And he doesn't! Sean Penn! Standing o. "You commie, homo-lovin' sons of guns." Great line. And then he gets serious. As he should. We live in serious times. He's a double winner now. Joining Spencer Tracy, Frederich March, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks. Others? I used to know this stuff.
Best picture: How interesting that the accompanying pics with each nominee are full of NON-best picture winners: "Citizen Kane," "Saving Private Ryan," etc. The Academy saying, "Whoops, whoops, whoops..."
And the Oscar goes to...
Yep, "Slumdog Milionaire." As someone here dryly says: "Shocking."
So Brenda wins our pool, with 19 out of 21 correct. I tied for second with 18 out of 21. Which means it wasn't exactly a surprising year...
Enough of this. Clean-up duty. It'll be interesting to read what other people thought. Me, I don't even know what I thought. I was too busy doing this.
The Backwards Threats of Hollywood Execs
Some executives, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect their relationships with those who vote for prizes, have said in the last few weeks that they do not expect their studios to make any movie in the foreseeable future as a specific Oscar bet.
If honors happen to come, as they came to “The Departed,” a Warner film that was a surprise best-picture winner in 2007, so be it. But few are looking to make the next “Frost/Nixon,” a smart, critically acclaimed film that got Ron Howard a nomination as best director this year.
Look, I enjoyed “Frost/Nixon” well enough. But threatening not to make the next “Frost/Nixon” is like, I don’t know, threatening not to serve a baked potato at your next dinner party. Not many people are going to lose sleep.
Read Cieply’s entire piece. On the one hand, the lament of these executives is part of my lament: In recent years, the Academy hasn’t been nominating box-office hits for best picture. Let’s trot out that stat again. Since 1944, when the Academy finally settled on five best picture nominees, there have only been seven years when not one of the best-picture candidates was among the year’s top 10 box-office hits: 1947, 1984...and the last five years in a row.
But blaming only the Academy for this is both dishonest and hypocritical. Me, I mostly blame the studios. Here’s the bigger problem: Best pictures are no longer perceived as movies for all of us. They’ve become, as in the language above, niche pictures, and one niche of many. Here’s your gory horror, your chick flick, your urban comedy. Here’s either your gross wish fulfillment (the superstrong and superpowerful) relased into 4,000 theaters in the heat of summer, or here’s your small, sad slice of reality (the superweak) released into select cities in the dark of December. The former’s fun, the latter’s “important,” and never the twain shall meet. Anymore.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the consolidation of these niches makes each niche more like itself. The gory horror film becomes more gory; the chick flick becomes pinker and fluffier; the serious film becomes deadly, sadly serious. And the idea of a best picture “for all of us” becomes just that: an idea.
Thus the primary threat above — that the majors will no longer make and/or target specific films as Oscar candidates — is amusing in two ways. One: the majors haven’t even been producing many best-picture-type movies in recent years — they leave that to the indies — so threatening not to do what they’re already not doing is, yes, not a viable threat.
More importantly, removing the "best-picture niche” may allow what elements are in that niche (seriousness, etc.) to bleed into other niches and create something that's both important and not limited. I.e., something for all of us.
It's not only not a threat; it might even be a solution.
See you in a few hours.
Two Hoots for Junior
So while I was gabbing about the Oscars this week, the Seattle Mariners, a team that has no shot at any kind of post-season, and barely a shot at a season, went and signed favorite son Ken Griffey, Jr. Good. There are sound arguments against the signing, that it's a move made with the heart and not the head, but baseball's always been a game of the heart. You lose that, you lose something fundamental about the game. Sure, I probably wouldn't say this if the M's had a chance in hell this year but they don't. They're not even in a quote-unquote “rebuiliding year” since they don't have much to rebuild with. This is the year, if anything, to test whether Jeff Clement can be a major league catcher, and if he can't whether he can be a major league first baseman, and if he can't whether he can be a major league left fielder, and the Griffey signing, if everyone understands their role, doesn't get in the way of this. My favorite argument in favor of the signing comes from ESPN's Jim Caple, who writes:
I don't understand the criticism that signing Griffey is primarily a move to boost attendance. Yeah, gee, we sure wouldn't want to give loyal fans who have sat through so many miserable seasons something actually worth watching in exchange for their $40 tickets and $8 beers.
Right on. Here's another trip down memory lane. The following was published on the Op-Ed page of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer in May 1995 after Ken Griffey, Jr. fractured his wrist catching a fly ball at the Kingdome. We never got to that magical 700 number I hoped for, but 600+ ain't bad.
Two Hoots for Junior
Feel free to tell me to get a life.
I returned to baseball four years ago with what I thought was an adult attitude about the game. No matter if my team won or lost I kept things in perspective. Randy Johnson strikes out fifteen guys, I'm still working the same job. Edgar Martinez injures his ankle, I've still got the same problems, the same goals, the same friends, the same enemies. Nothing about my life has changed except this or that vicarious victory or defeat.
It's an attitude I later found summed up in the film, “A Bronx Tale.” A boy is depressed because Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees lost the 1960 World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. A local mob boss — who has befriended the kid — tells him, Hey, you think Mickey Mantle gives two hoots about you? He doesn't care about you. He doesn't even know you exist!
That's the way I felt. I wanted the Mariners to win, but I knew Lou Pinella didn't give two hoots about me. I knew he didn't know I existed. I was properly, emotionally distant
Until this Griffey thing happened.
I was at the game. My friend Mike and I were sitting in the box seats in right field, past the visitors' bullpen. We had a perfect view. I saw him go for the ball. I saw him crash into the wall. And, contrary to Steve Kelley's subsequent reporting, the stadium did not hush; there was no “sickened silence” from the Kingdome crowd. The people around me were cheering like maniacs. I know because a sickened silence came upon me. I thought, “Nobody — not even Junior — slams into a wall with such speed, at such an awkward angle, without doing damage to himself.”
Still, the people around me were going nuts. Of course these were the same kind of people who make the “whup! whooo!” noise when the opposition relievers warm up — the kind of people, in other words, who don't even pay attention to the game — so I didn't pay any attention to them.
Then right fielder Alex Diaz started making a circular motion with his hand as if some big deal was going on. At first I thought he was encouraging the fans in their cheering, and, reluctantly, I went along. Then I realized, no, he was calling for the trainer.
Earlier in the game, Griffey hit a homer off the right field foul pole above our heads. It was his 998th career hit. Since I already had tickets for the next night's game — and since Junior was in a groove — I felt assured of seeing him hit no. 1,000.
In the eighth inning we got the news. Fractured wrist. Out for three months. It was like a blow to the solar plexus. A pall was cast over the game. I didn't even want to go to the Kingdome the next evening. It would be like returning to the scene of a crime.
I tried to keep my emotional distance. I repeated my mantra. My life is the same. Same job, same troubles, same goals. Ken Griffey Jr. doesn't give two hoots about me. He doesn't know I exist. He is a multi-millionaire seven years my junior. We have nothing in common.
Still I cared.
And I think I cared for three reasons.
The first is the way he injured himself. If he had fractured his wrist, say, playing basketball, or slipping in the shower, I would've rolled my eyes. But no. He injured it trying to fly. He injured it for the team. He injured it right in front of me.
The second reason is the effect it will have not so much on the Mariners but on the perception of the Mariners. I know we still have a good line-up. I know we'll still win. But Junior gave us something else. He actually made the Mariners scary. He was the constant roadblock in our lineup. You have to get by this guy in order to beat us.
More, he made us glamorous. Last year, when Mike was at Wrigley Field, two kids in Cubs hats found out he was from Seattle. “You mean you get to watch Ken Griffey Jr. play?” they asked enviously. Mike said it was the first time anyone actually envied him for going to the Kingdome.
Finally, the third reason. A couple of seasons ago I began keeping my ticket stubs and writing on the back not just the final score but any significant events that occurred. Randy Johnson strikes out fifteen Royals. Jay Buhner hits for the cycle. Things like that. The impetus for this — I can now admit — was to keep track of how many Ken Griffey Jr. homeruns I had seen (14, so far). And the reason this statistic was important was, well, these were historic homeruns. Because he was going to hit a lot of them. 500. 600. 700? The sky seemed the limit.
Now the sky has fallen. Tiles one year and the sky the next.
Now there's a metal plate and six screws holding together his valuable left wrist.
Now I find myself caring a little too much about a guy who hit homeruns too much and caught fly balls too well.
And now if you'll excuse me I'll go get a life.
Lyrics of the Day
When I see you, when I hear you, when I touch you
Or just when I think that I might see or hear or touch you
Maybe you'd stop crying
Maybe you'd stop crying."
— Gavin Osborn
"The Greatest Thing There Is"
Much Ado About Oscar — Days 2 & 3
Here are links to Days Two and Three of the Oscar Symposium over at Nathaniel R.'s place. At the end of Day 3 we also lay out our will win/should win list. Turns out we agree with each other a lot — perhaps too much — and those choices also agree with our perception of what the Academy will do. I can't remember a year when so much of what I thought should win was what I thought would win. Chalk it up to the limited choices? Whatever, just don't confuse the agreeableness with any kind of passion. These really are the ho-hum Oscars for me. I'm not hugely rooting for anything, I'm not hugely rooting against anything. But I'll still try to liveblog the sucker.
Meantime, my friend Tommy directed me to this neat little Oscar quiz. I got 24 of 31. Please someone do better.
Toles and Jelly
Seriously, is there a better editorial cartoonist in the country? Is there a better editorial anything in the country? Most cartoonists are inevitably reductive but Toles merely simplifies a point to its essence. The issue seems larger in his hands rather than smaller.
The Devil Is My Kinda Woman
“When asked why she had so many sexual partners, Marlene [Dietrich] shrugged. 'They asked.'”
— from “It Happened at the Hotel Du Cap” by Cari Beauchamp in the March 2009 Vanity Fair.
God, I Love This Guy
“Going forward,“ Mr. Obama said, ”each and every time we’ve got an initiative, I’m going to go to both Democrats and Republicans and I’m going to say, ‘Here’s my best argument for why we need to do this. I want to listen to your counterarguments. If you’ve got better ideas, present them. We will incorporate them into any plans that we make, and we are willing to compromise on certain issues that are important to one side or the other in order to get stuff done.’” ...
When asked about the sharp drop in the stock markets after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner announced an expanded bank bailout plan last week, Mr. Obama replied:
“I am not planning based on a one-day market reaction. In fact, you can argue that a lot of the problems we’re in have to do with everybody planning based on one-day market reactions, or three-month market reactions, and as a consequence nobody was taking the long view.
“My job is to help the country take the long view — to make sure that not only are we getting out of this immediate fix, but we’re not repeating the same cycle of bubble and bust over and over again; that we’re not having the same energy conversation 30 years from now that we had 30 years ago; that we’re not talking about the state of our schools in the exact same ways we were talking about them in the 1980s; and that at some point we say, ‘You know what? If we’re spending more money per-capita on health care than any nation on earth, then you’d think everybody would have coverage and we would see lower costs for average consumers, and we’d have better outcomes.’”
— from Bob Herbert's column, “Obama Riding the Wave,” from The New York Times, February 17, 2009
Nat & Tim & Kris & Karina & Ed & Erik
I recently participated in a three-day symposium about the Oscars over at Nathaniel R’s excellent Film Experience Blog. Make sure you check out the "chatty moviegoer" comments at the end, too. In some ways they're having a livelier discussion than we had in the symposium. Probably because they aren’t saddled with the word “symposium."
Silver on Oscar Gold
One of the sites I turned to regularly, desperately, during the recent presidential campaign was Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com. In the run-up to the election, some friends felt that Silver leaned left too much, but, as it turned out, he didn’t lean left enough. He predicted 338 electoral votes for Obama, who wound up with 365.
Silver started out as a stats-head for one of my loves, baseball, and now he’s entering another: movies. Specifically: the Oscars. New York magazine asked for his predictions on the six major categories and he obliged:
Picture: Slumdog Millionaire (99% chance)
Director: Danny Boyle, SM (99.7%)
Actor: Mickey Rourke (71%)
Actress: Kate Winslet (67.6%)
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger (85.8%)
Supporting Actress: Taraji P. Henson (51%)
For most of these, of course, you don’t exactly need to build statistical software and use logistics regression. But his choice, or his software’s choice, for supporting actress is intriguing. I read deeper but the rationale didn’t make much sense:
Penélope Cruz, who won the BAFTA for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, would seem the logical default. But computer sez: Benjamin Button’s Taraji P. Henson! Button, which looks like a shutout everywhere else, is the only Best Picture nominee with a Supporting Actress nod, and Best Pic nominees tend to have an edge in the other categories.
Except we’re not talking about the other categories, we’re talking about this category. And in the last 10 years, say, how often has a supporting actress winner been the sole best-pic representative in her category? Once. Ten years ago, when Judi Dench won for “Shakespeare in Love” and none of the others had best-pic cred. And how often has the winner not come from a best-pic nominee when a best-pic representative was available? Five times: Angelina Jolie for “Girl, Interrupted” in 1999, Marcia Gay Harden for “Pollock” in 2000, Rene Zellwegger for “Cold Mountain” in 2003, Rachel Weisz for “The Constant Gardener” in 2005, and Jennifer Hudson for “Dreamgirls” in 2006.
So why is the best pic nomination for “Button” a trump card for Henson? I don’t get it. If anything, this category has always read as the “babe” category:
1999: Angelina Jolie, “Girl, Interrupted”
2000: Marcia Gay Harden, “Pollock”
2001: Jennifer Connelly, “A Beautiful Mind”
2002: Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Chicago”
2003: Renee Zellwegger, “Cold Mountain”
2004: Cate Blanchett, “The Aviator”
2005: Rachel Weisz, “The Constant Gardener”
2006: Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”
2007: Tilda Swinton, “Michael Clayton”
The question for this category isn’t “Who’s in a best picture nominee?” but “Who do the mostly old, mostly male members of the Academy want to fuck this year?” Talent aside, that’s why most of us are guessing Penelope Cruz.
Of course crunching fuckability into an algorithm may even be beyond the scope of the man who predicted such a sure victory for Obama.
The EW Fall Preview Issue: A Look Back
First, “Harry Potter” is on the cover, and of course that film got pushed ahead to a summer release date so no one's even seen it. Then, month to month, here’s the big movies they target and anticipate:
- September: “Miracle at St. Anna”; “Burn After Reading”; “Appaloosa”
- October: “High School Musical 3”; “Body of Lies”; “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”
- November: “Australia”; “The Road”; “The Soloist”
- December: “Revolutionary Road”; “Marley & Me”; “Doubt”
And what of the best picture nominees? “Milk” and “Button” and “Frost” get middling write-ups, while “The Reader” and front-runner “Slumdog” aren’t mentioned at all. It took a second to remember that, oh yes, “Slumdog” had distribution difficulties. From the August 31st New York Times:
“Slumdog Millionaire” was originally a Warner Independent Pictures release, but last May, Warner Brothers closed its two independent divisions, PictureHouse and Warner Independent, in an effort to cut costs. Now the company will work with Fox Searchlight Pictures to distribute Mr. Boyle’s film in North America. ... Jeff Robinov, president of Warner Brothers Pictures Group, said Warner was working with Fox Searchlight to release the film because of the studio’s crowded calendar. “With the recent additions to our slate, it became impossible for us to release ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ in this calendar year,” Mr. Robinov said. “Danny very much wanted to get it released this year,” said Peter Rice, president of Fox Searchlight, “and we have a long relationship with him.”It’s easy to forget how quickly a non-entity can become an inevitability. And vice-versa.
Two-Minute Review: The International (2009)
When I first saw a trailer for “The International” it seemed like a thriller for our time: corruption at a bank, money being lost, people getting screwed. Turns out it's a thriller for the exact opposite of our time. It's about an Interpol agent trying to bring down an all-powerful bank at all costs, while in the real world we're busy trying to prop up our weak and hemorrhaging banks. Yes, at all costs.
The movie has some nice moments. We get to travel the world: Berlin, Lyon, Istanbul, Milan. Director Tom Tykwer shoots agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) entering, and dwarfed by, these gigantic financial institutions — the way Raoul Walsh filmed Joel McRae against a western backdrop in “Colorado Territory.” The great set-piece is a shoot-‘em-up down the circular floors of the Guggenheim in New York. Armin Mueller-Stahl, playing the inside man with a conscience, gives us his usual solid performance and delivers the film’s best line: “This is the difference between truth and fiction; fiction has to make sense.”
Unfortunately this fiction makes little sense — reflecting its difficult birth and German/Hollywood parentage. It’s too slow to be an action thriller and not cerebral enough to be an intellectual thriller. As implied, its villain (an international bank) is, in our world, on life-support, so as Salinger relentlessly pursues the executives of this bank around the globe, you almost want to reach out a hand and stop him. “Everyone is involved,” Mueller-Stahl warns Owen about the bank. Well, now anyway.
Oscar Acceptance Speech of the Day
“You know, when you grow up in the suburbs of Sydney or Auckland or Newcastle, like Ridley or Jamie Bell — well, the suburbs of anywhere — a dream like this seems kind of vaguely ludicrous and completely unattainable. But this moment is directly connected to those childhood imaginings. And for anybody who's on the down side of advantage and relying purely on courage, it's possible. Thanks very much.”
— Russell Crowe after winning best actor for “Gladiator.”
And the Award for Least-Seen Best Picture Nominee Goes To...
As I mentioned earlier, only two best picture nominees since 1980 haven’t wound up among the year’s top 100 box-office hits — “The Dresser” in 1983 and “Letters from Iwo Jima” in 2006 — and yet we have three this year alone. Amazing. The sad part is they’re not even great films. Maybe “Milk” but that’s it. I mean if the Academy is going for quality over popularity, as David Carr suggests, why not choose quality? Instead of a bland mediocrity that pleases neither moviegoers nor critics.
“Milk,” by the way, has the best shot of cracking the top 100. It’s currently at no. 104, only $1 million behind no. 101, “Street Kings,” a dirty-cop movie starring Keanu Reeves that opened in over 2,000 theaters in April. Yes, that sentence is sad in so many ways.
Why does Sean Penn remind me of James Cagney? If I met Jimmy Markum in a dark alley, I think he would have more remorse about killing me than would Cody Jarrett (Cagney’s character in “White Heat”), but both Cagney and Penn are great at expressing the heat of conflicting desires — it’s in their posture, in the way they move their feet, in the set of their shoulders, in their faces. Both of them make other actors seem slow and cool. Both of them make every script unpredictable. Yes, I know before I see “Mystic River” or “Milk” that mayhem and grief will ensue, but somehow, as the movie unfolds, Sean Penn makes me think that he might just evade his fate after all.
Actually I like that last line – it’s the comparison that’s the problem. Why does Penn remind her of Cagney? I don’t get that feeling. In fact, I think of them as opposites. Cagney had energy — and that energy transferred through the screen to the audience. You got jazzed watching him. You left the theater with more energy than when you entered. Penn, while a great, great actor, is exhausting. Sorry. He saps our strength. At least he saps mine. Two and a half years ago I did a piece on him for MSNBC, and watched — again— most of his movies. I remember watching She’s So Lovely, lids at half-mast, and when John Travolta shows up it’s like a breath of fresh air. Yes! Energy! After writing that piece I had to see a shrink. I’m not joking. Try it sometime. Watch 10 Sean Penn movies in a row and see where you wind up.
Actually — Jesus! — I just re-read my piece, and I make this very comparison back then. With Cagney as the anti-Penn:
Watch “She’s So Lovely,” an awful title for a flawed film, in which Penn plays Eddie Quinn, another small-timer who — I think this is the point — goes crazy when his girlfriend (Robin Wright Penn) lies to him about the bruises on her face. He spends the next 10 years in a mental institution because of this lie. When he gets out, she’s married to Joey (John Travolta), a rich construction something-or-other with maybe mob ties. Travolta’s character is boldly drawn and external — the way Cagney was always external — and the movie becomes fun for a moment. We draw energy from Travolta. Then Penn’s character shows up again, all intricate and internalized and self-contained, and the fun disappears. We lean forward. We try to understand. In this way Penn draws energy from us. He exhausts us. He’s not much fun.
I don't mean to disparage Penn here but Smiley. At the least, we each see something different in, or draw something different from, Sean Penn.
Enough of that. Here’s a shot of Penelope Cruz. Have a nice day:
Quote of the Day
“For me, [Ted] Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill. Baseball is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out. Irrelevance—since the reference point of most individual games is remote and statistical—always threatens its interest, which can be maintained not by the occasional heroics that sportswriters feed upon but by players who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art. Insofar as the clutch hitter is not a sportswriter’s myth, he is a vulgarity, like a writer who writes only for money. It may be that, compared to managers’ dreams such as Joe DiMaggio and the always helpful Stan Musial, Williams is an icy star. But of all team sports, baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men in white, its dispassionate mathematics, seems to me best suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner. It is an essentially lonely game. No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.”
— John Updike on Ted Williams in “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” and a reminder of what baseball used to be.
Quote of the Day
“Those [New Yorker] reviews alone would have been enough to make a major career, each one not laying down the law for the writer but bringing news to the reader. (What editor would not cry out in delight at finding a piece that made the simple and sage distinction that purposes are not points, that, where the purpose of “King Lear” was to purge the soul with pity and terror, its point was that old men should not retire prematurely.)”
—Adam Gopnik in “Postscript: John Updike,” in The New Yorker. Read Roger Angell on same here. Updike's incomparable piece about Ted Williams' final at-bat, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” can be, must be, read here.
We Are Not a Serious Nation
I checked out YouTube for the first time in a long time this morning, saw the shit that passed for shit there, and thought of Gore Vidal: We are not a serious nation. I read a friend’s account of how even at a pizza gathering half the kids were texting other kids rather than talking with the kids present, and thought: We are not a serious nation. I read Paul Krugman’s column in this morning’s New York Times, about how serious our economic crisis is, and how lame the response in Congress has been, particularly from the Republicans in Congress, and thought: We are not a serious nation.
I look at this site and think the same. You do what you do. I try to write about movies seriously but to what end? We’ll see where this goes. Both versions of “this.”
In November I wrote a spirited defense of how “The Daily Show” would fare in an Obama administration but I’m having my doubts now. It’s the economic crisis more than Pres. Obama. Every joke about it, from a guy making millions, and I think: “That shit ain’t funny.” Comedy is, what, tragedy plus time? They’re ignoring time. We’re just wasting it.
I apologize for this post but a blog is about what’s on your mind and this is what’s on my mind. Probably yours, too.
The economy shed 598,000 jobs in January. I knew of three of them.
Quote of the Day
— Film critic/historian David Thomson in Nick Madigan’s article “Best pic noms elicit strong reactions” in Variety magazine, encapsulating a trend I've been writing about for years.
One-sentence Review: Rachel Getting Married (2008)
The weight of family history (even if it doesn't involve tragedy) makes family celebrations (even if they don't involve a wedding) a bit of an oxymoron.
The Lundys: Best Reviews of Best Pics
Welcome! To the first annual presentation of the Lundys: the best reviews of the best picture candidates from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
No science in mine. Just reviews that confirmed or articulated what I felt was right or wrong about a movie. Mostly wrong, this year. Many people have said that 2008 was a pretty crappy year for movies, but, to me, it was really only an off-year for the prestige pictures. Overall, it was a great year. Just look at 2007. The big box-office pics were either lame threequels (“Spider-Man 3,” “Pirates 3,” “Shrek the Third”) or noisy remakes (“Transformers”), while 2008 gave us, among the top five box-office hits, “Dark Knight,” “Iron Man” and “WALL-E.” Not bad.
From the winning reviews, you can probably guess which movie I’m rooting for on Oscar night. It has no shot but doesn’t mean I’m not rooting.
Apologies, too, to all the critics whose reviews I missed. I’m not much of a surfer. I don’t even have nominees for best reviews of best picture candidates. Only winners. Maybe next year.
OK, on with the countdown.
For best review of Stephen Daldry’s “The Reader,” the Lundy goes to... Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal! (Applause) Mr. Morgenstern most exactly articulated the biggest problem with both movie and book:
The Reader remains schematic, and ultimately reductive. It really is about literacy, which proves to be a dismayingly small answer to the enormous questions posed by Hanna's dark past.
I can talk more about this later, but: Yes. “The Reader” begins as a sexual coming-of-age film, veers into a Holocaust picture, and winds up as an “ABC Afterschool Special”: Hanna Schmitz Learns to Read. With such a trajectory (which is more obvious in the book, since the movie includes Kate Winslet’s great performance), it can’t help but feel small and unworthy. Academy, I'm looking at you.
For best review of Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon,” the Lundy goes to... David Edelstein of New York Magazine! (Applause) I love in particular Mr. Edelstein’s early slams of Nixon the man. Criticism is not for the impartial, political or otherwise, a fact that many editors at many newspapers — trying to hold onto every loudmouthed conservative subscriber — don't seem to understand.
Edelstein also gets to the heart of what’s weak with “F/N”:
Frost/Nixon is unsatisfying even if, like me, you’re a lifelong aficionado of Nixon-bashing. [Screenwriter Peter] Morgan makes him out to be a Great White Whale, but when he sat down with Frost, Nixon was already dead in the water—convicted by his own words in White House transcripts to the point where even his Republican allies had long deserted him. And with selective editing, Morgan makes it seem as if Frost got Nixon to admit more than he actually did. The original Watergate interview is now on DVD, and there are self-exculpatory escape clauses in every interminable, circumlocutory utterance. When Frost read aloud from the White House transcripts, Nixon’s eyes darted around as he searched his brain for linguistic loopholes. In Frost/Nixon, Langella’s heavy features move slowly; he seems to be plumbing the depths of his soul and glimpsing, for an instant, the abyss. Alas, the shit that dribbles from Langella’s mouth is still Tricky Dick’s.
For David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the Lundy goes to... David Denby of The New Yorker! (Tepid applause. Some hoots.) Mr. Denby actually reviews, or takes apart, all of the Oscar candidates in his piece — save “Milk,” which he roots for — and he’s good on all of them. But particularly “Button”:
As Benjamin makes his way, many people puzzle over the discrepancy between his age and his temperament. But who cares? The movie is given over to an infinitely patient and scrupulous working out of its own bizarre premise, and you come away from its sombre thoroughness with the impression that something profound has been said without having any idea what it could be.
For Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Milionaire,” the Lundy goes to... Manohla Dargis of The New York Times! (Hoots. Cries of a New York bias.) Ms. Dargis’ reviewed the film when it was merely a film — one of many coming out that month — as opposed to the Oscar frontrunner for best picture, but, from that early, uncluttered vantage point, she still manages to articulate what is both appealing about the film, and, more importantly, what is false about it:
In the end, what gives me reluctant pause about this bright, cheery, hard-to-resist movie is that its joyfulness feels more like a filmmaker’s calculation than an honest cry from the heart about the human spirit (or, better yet, a moral tale). In the past Mr. Boyle has managed to wring giggles out of murder (“Shallow Grave”) and addiction (“Trainspotting”), and invest even the apocalypse with a certain joie de vivre (the excellent zombie flick “28 Days Later”). He’s a blithely glib entertainer who can dazzle you with technique and, on occasion, blindside you with emotion, as he does in his underrated children’s movie, “Millions.” He plucked my heartstrings in “Slumdog Millionaire” with well-practiced dexterity, coaxing laughter and sobs out of each sweet, sour and false note.
And finally, the last Lundy of the evening, for best review of Gus Van Sant’s “Milk,” goes to... Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic! (tepid applause; shrugs; people grabbing their coats and leaving en masse) Mr. Sullivan is the only non-critic in the bunch, but his early take on “Milk,” written from a more personal perspective, articulated something about the film I hadn’t taken in. It opened the film for me. That’s basically what you want from a critic:
Milk was a radical; but he was also a businessman. He had one true love; and yet couldn't integrate it into a successful long-term relationship in his short life-time. He was a man of the streets and yet he also had to become a symbol of establishment power. The scene when he both stokes a rally-cum-riot and then calms it down captured the tension perfectly. He was a man of politics, but he was also only a politician in order to have the chance to be a human.
The movie's brilliance is not that it begins and ends with his death as a reflection on the first and last things; it is that it begins and ends with Milk's love for another human being as well. This reach for intimacy - always vulnerable, always intimate, never safe - endures past movements and rallies and elections. These manifestations of the political are the means to that merely human end.
Which is why, in so many ways, the gay movement, at its very best, is something holy.
That’s it, folks. Thanks for coming. And keep reading the critics.
Francois Truffaut Quote of the Day - II
Charlie is in bed with Clarisse. She's topless with the sheet near her waist. Charlie pulls it above her breasts.
Charlie: This is how it's done in the movies.
Clarisse: Ha ha. (Pause) I saw Torpedoes in Alaska at the movies this afternoon.
Charlie: Any good?
Clarisse: John Wayne shows how America only wants peace.
Charlie: Well, well. The Yanks are just like me.
— from Francois Truffaut's Tirez sur le pianiste (1960)
Francois Truffaut Quote of the Day - I
“We almost didn't make it at first. I'd watch her over breakfast, wondering how to get rid of her. But then I thought, 'Where do you get these ideas?' And I found no answer.”
— Passerby, happily married after 11 years, in Francois Truffaut's Tirez sur le pianiste (1960)
Pedigree of a Slumdog: PGA, SAG, DGA...
With the Directors Guild of America Award going to Danny Boyle of “Slumdog Millionaire,” it looks increasingly unlikely that any other movie will win best picture. In fact it'll be unprecedented. Winning the DGA alone is usually a lock. You win the DGA, you tend to win the Oscar for best director. You win the Oscar for best director, your picture tends to win best picture. Only nine times since 1957 has best pic gone to something other than the DGA winner’s pic.
Then factor in the Producers Guild of America, which began giving awards in 1989. How many times has a movie won the DGA and the PGA and not won best picture? Three times: In 1995 when the guilds chose “Apollo 13” and the Academy chose “Braveheart”; in 1998 when the guilds chose “Saving Private Ryan” and the Academy chose “Shakespeare in Love”: and in 2005 when the guilds chose “Brokeback Mountain” and the Academy chose “Crash.”
(BTW: Isn’t it amazing how the guilds had the better choice each disagreeable year?)
Then factor in the Screen Actors Guild, which began giving awards in 1996.
This is the fifth year all three guilds agreed. They agreed in 1999 (“American Beauty”), 2002 (“Chicago”), 2003 (“Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”) and last year (“No Country for Old Men”). Of course each of those pictures won the Oscar.
In other words, if you choose anything other than “Slumdog” in your Oscar pool, you’re rolling with some pretty loaded dice.
Edward Hopper's Quiet
Patricia and I finally got down to the Seattle Art Museum to see “Edward Hopper’s Women,” a small exhibit, limited to two rooms, that has been on view since mid-November. I’m of the “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like” school, and I love Hopper. He may be my favorite artist. His paintings feel quiet. There’s a stillness to them, often a sad stillness, but I’d still like to be in them. My favorite in this exhibit, which included maybe a dozen paintings, was “Automat.”
A few years ago, reading Milan Kundera’s“Ignorance,” I realized that the saddest thing in the world to me is loneliness — particularly female loneliness. If men are lonely I often view it as their own damn fault. But the loneliness of women kills me. Here’s the paragraph that did it. Re-reading it now, it doesn’t seem like much, but back then it brought tears to my eyes:
Standing at a bar, she slowly sips a beer and eats a cheese sandwich. She does not hurry; there is nothing she must do. All her Sundays are like that: in the afternoon she’ll read, and at night she’ll have a lonely meal at home.This graph could be describing an Edward Hopper painting. It could be describing “Automat.”
Patricia, meanwhile, loves “New York Movie”: the light on the woman and how lost in thought she is.
The exhibit does a good job of describing how weighed-down she seems, reminding us that, though most of us go to the movies to escape, it’s reality, sometimes grim reality, for those who work there. Me, I love the sliver of black-and-white — the 1939 film — on the left side of the painting. (It’s much more noticeable in person.) It didn’t strike until now but it’s fascinating that the black-and-white world is the escapist fantasy, while the world full of color is the one where we’re heavy with burden. That feels so right (in the painting) and so wrong (in the world).
Afterwards, Patricia and I walked home via Westlake Center in downtown Seattle. It was a beautiful day for the last day of January — low 40s, the sun out, less gray than usual. We passed panhandlers, street performers, black kids selling candy bars. More than usual? It felt like it. It felt like the beginning.