erik lundegaard

Thursday February 28, 2013

Coming Soon

Coming Soon: Man of Steel (2013)

I still miss the spitcurl.

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Posted at 08:11 AM on Feb 28, 2013 in category Superheroes
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Wednesday February 27, 2013

Quote of the Day

“I found the film, which doesn’t have narration, to be exhaustively researched and arrestingly powerful. Most importantly, it answers a lot of questions I and everyone have had about the author. There is previously unseen footage and photos, and a rich depiction of that unfathomable period in Salinger’s career when The New Yorker magazine was able to publish a new J.D. Salinger story fairly regularly.

“There also are details of: his WWII soldiering in Normandy and interrogation of Nazi prisoners; his love affair with Eugene O’Neill’s daughter Oona, and the crushing disappointment of losing her to Charlie Chaplin while Salinger fought in Europe; Salinger’s habit of locking himself away in his New Hampshire cinder block bunker for weeks at a time to write; his penchant for taking a week to craft a single sentence; the damage his silences caused his family; the futile efforts of friends to reintroduce him to the world ...

”Even more intriguing, Salerno’s documentary also reports on what J.D. Salinger literary works might be in the famed secret vault, where 45 years of unpublished writings are rumored to be kept.“

-- Mike Fleming, Jr. on Shane Salerno's documentary, ”Salinger," which was recently purchased by the Weinstein Co. for distribution later this year. For me, though, the unfathomable period in Salinger's life isn't his New Yorker days (roughly 1947 to 1956); it's 1965 on. But I'm excited for the doc. My own life with J.D. Salinger here.

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Posted at 03:45 PM on Feb 27, 2013 in category Quote of the Day
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Zack Wagman Ranks the Best Pictures: from 'Casablanca' to 'Crash'

poster for "Casablanca" (1943)Zack Wagman Ranks the Best Pictures

1. Casablanca (1943)
2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
3. Annie Hall (1977)
4. Schindler’s List (1993)
5. Chicago (2002)
6. The Godfather Part II (1974)
7. The Godfather (1972)
8. All About Eve (1950)
9. Amadeus (1984)
10. The Apartment (1960)

11. Forrest Gump (1994)
12. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
13. Braveheart (1995)
14. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
15. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
16. No Country for Old Men (2007)
17. Titanic (1997)
18. Gladiator (2000)
19. The Departed (2006)
20. Oliver! (1968)

21. Gone with the Wind (1939)
22. Rocky (1976)
23. On the Waterfront (1954)
24. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
25. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
26. American Beauty (1999)
27. Ghandi (1982)
28. The Sound of Music (1965)
29. The Sting (1973)
30. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

31. Unforgiven (1992)
32. The French Connection (1971)
33. The Deer Hunter (1978)
34. Patton (1970)
35. It Happened One Night (1934)
36. An American in Paris (1951)
37. West Side Story (1961)
38. The Hurt Locker (2009)
39. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
40. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

41. Platoon (1986)
42. Rebecca (1940)
43. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
44. Rain Man (1988)
45. Terms of Endearment (1983)
46. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
47. Mutiny of the Bounty (1935)
48. My Fair Lady (1964)
49. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
50. Marty (1955)

51. Ordinary People (1980)
52. Ben-Hur (1959)
53. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
54. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
55. The English Patient (1996)
56. Dances with Wolves (1990)
57. The King’s Speech (2010)
58. The Artist (2011)
59. Out of Africa (1985)
60. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

61. All the King’s Men (1949)
62. The Lost Weekend (1945)
63. Chariots of Fire (1981)
64. Gigi (1958)
65. From Here to Eternity (1953)
66. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
67. The Last Emperor (1987)
68. Cavalcade (1933)
69. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
70. Grand Hotel (1932)

71. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
72. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
73. Crash (2005)

Haven’t Seen

A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Tom Jones (1963)
Hamlet (1948)
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
Going My Way (1944)
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
How Green Was My Valley (1941)
The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Cimarron (1931)
The Broadway Melody (1929)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1928)
Wings (1927)

Zack's Comment

I wanted to write in “Pocahontas” but they wouldn't let me...

My comment

But if we started there, where would we end? Before or after Ed Wood? Interesting fifth choice, btw. I guess I had the same problem with “Chicago” that I do with most CGI movies: a sense of claustrophobia.

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 11:38 AM on Feb 27, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Monday February 25, 2013

Deadblogging the Oscars - 2013

My nephew, Jordy, 11, won our Oscar pool from way over in Minneapolis. I came in second. The torch has been passed. Or the Archie McPhee's Oscar statuette anyway.

I'm not much of a fan of the morning-after overanalysis of the Oscar show: who wore what, who said what, OMG. The Oscar show isn't meant to be watched and analyzed as if it were a movie up for an Oscar. It's an excuse to throw a party, drink a little too much, talk back at your TV. If I was sitting on the couch taking notes, I might've been as disappointed as Nikki Finke. Although hopefully less self-important.

As it was, I thought Seth MacFarlane was fine. Richard Brody on The New Yorker site accuses him of being a parody of a host, a kind of SNL version of what a controversial host might be, but I liked the sensibility he brought. Brody makes some salient points but he's wrong in one regard. He says MacFarlane never conveyed “authentic joie de shtick.” Again, I don't watch, or much like, MacFarlane's shows. Way too many misses among the hits. But you can't watch five minutes of them without realizing their creator is a huge movie fan. What was that “Sound of Music” takeoff if not the authentic joy of a movie lover being able to act out a scene from a favorite movie in front of the moviemakers themselves? Plus the “We Saw Your Boobs” number has way more subtext than Brody, or anyone, seems willing to admit. It's saying outright what's merely alluded to.

Brody sniffs at it:

The gross miscalculation of the “boobs” number set the tone for the evening—the wrong one. It seemed as if MacFarlane wanted to announce his hiring of Mr. Skin as a musical consultant. I’ve long thought that the nudity of women in movies has often been used by producers as a sort of ugly rite of passage, a public refraction of the casting couch—but, rather than lampooning the industry potentates who pay for it and market it or, for that matter, the male voyeurism that they serve or the societal sexism that underlies the practice, MacFarlane seemed to be mocking and embarrassing the actresses themselves (as Charlize Theron’s ice-cold gaze, caught on camera during the number, made clear).

First, I'm pretty sure the reaction shots of the actresses involved were pre-taped and part of the bit. Weren't they wearing different clothes, for example? Second, anyone who doesn't own up to the power there, to the power of sex and beauty, and to the culpability from all involved, including the women who dress up and dress down, is mistaking completely what Hollywood is about. Brody's chivalry might be better practiced elsewhere.

This E! writer is worse. He condemns MacFarlane for the sexism in the boobs number then drools over an imagined shirtless-as-Oscar Channing Tatum a paragraph later. Dude, your double-standard is showing.

As for the awards themselves? “Argo” wasn't bad, “Pi” wasn't bad, “Les Miz” wasn't bad. The evening was a celebration of the not-bad. Which is what the Oscars are.

But Daniel Day-Lewis is genius. So we got that.

The Archie: a fake Oscar from Archie McPhee in Ballard

The Archie: After a year with Mr. B, it's back with me. Unless I ship it to Jordy in Minneapolis.

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Posted at 08:38 AM on Feb 25, 2013 in category Movies - 2012 Oscars
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Sunday February 24, 2013

Five Reasons Why Seth MacFarlane's 'We Saw Your Boobs' is the Best Thing To Happen to Oscar in Years

Let me count the ways.

  1. The Oscars tend to skew female and gay.
  2. There is no greater straight male song about the movies than “We Saw Your Boobs.” It's what every straight guy remembers. Many a gay guy, too. Don't even get me started on gay women.
  3. It was presented within a framework—Capt. Kirk returning from the 23rd century to warn host Seth MacFarlane his Oscar show was about to go down in disaster—that softened it. That made it palatable.
  4. That framework—Capt. Fucking Kirk—is also a straight-guy framework.
  5. Better, that framework gets out in front of the obvious ragging-on-the-Oscar-host that we've been subjected to for the last 15 years.

I was dubious about Seth MacFarlane hosting. I'm not a fan of his shows. I laughed at “Ted” but felt unclean afterwards. And to be honest, a lot of his bits tonight were merely so-so. But “We Saw Your Boobs”? Not just comedically brilliant, but tactically brilliant for the demographic that Oscar needs to bring back to the show. It's the viral moment Oscar needs. See it here.

Seth MacFarlane: We Saw Your Boobs

Seth MacFarlane and the L.A. Gay Men's Chorus singing about boobs.

Charlize Theron: We Saw Your Boobs song

“Reaction shots” from actresses like Charlize Theron made it twice as funny.

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Posted at 11:00 PM on Feb 24, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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A Question for Fans of 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Timothy Egan has a piece on The New York Times site critiquing Kathryn Bigelow's “Zero Dark Thirty,” and Jeff Wells, a movie blogger and fan of the film, rather than responding himself, gets someone close to the project to respond. Must be nice.

It's not a bad response. It's certainly better than the official responses from Boal and Bigelow over the past months. Among other things, he/she says this:

By the way, we showed plenty of false starts. We portray the first eight years of the hunt as being wasteful because the name [of the courier] was in the files the entire time.

I've heard this defense several times now. My question: Why would Maya have been searching for the name of the courier, Abu Ahmed, if she hadn't already gotten it from Ammar after he'd been tortured for two years?

Here are the relevant lines of dialogue from the script; the moment Abu Ahmed's name first appears. It's when Ammar is enjoying a picnic lunch with Dan and Maya outside.

AMMAR: I wanted to kill Americans. We tried to get into Tora Bora but the bombing was too high. We couldn't cross.
MAYA: Sorry, who is the “we” in that sentence?
AMMAR: Me and some guys who were hanging around at that time.
DANIEL (casually): I can eat with some other dude and hook you back up to the ceiling?
AMMAR: Hamza Rabia, Khabab al-Masri, and Abu Ahmed.

(Maya makes notes on her pad.)

MAYA: Who's Abu Ahmed? I've heard of the other guys.
AMMAR: He was a computer guy with us at the time. After Tora Bora, I went back to Pesh - as you know - and he went North, I think, to Kunar.

This is why Maya began to search for Abu Ahmed. Because Ammar mentions him after two years of torture. He mentions him after being threatened with torture again. The fact that his name is in a file is as irrelevant as the fact that the Ark of the Covenant is boarded up in a government warehouse at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Bureaucratic files are where names go to disappear forever.

So if Ammar had never been tortured, Maya never would've been searching for Abu Ahmed, who never would have led us to Abottabad and Osama bin Laden.

So why isn't the above defense of the film's at-best ambiguous dramatization on the efficacy of torture a bullshit defense?

Jessica Chastain as Maya in "Zero Dark Thirty"

“Who's Abu Ahmed? I've heard of the other guys.”

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Posted at 09:18 AM on Feb 24, 2013 in category Movies
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Crunching the Numbers: What are the Most- and Least-Popular Best Picture Winners of All Time?

Welcome to Oscar day.

As mentioned in yesterday's post, my friend Vinny crunch the numbers of the first 71 readers (we're now close to 100) who ranked the best picture winners. He explains his methodology here:

I started out sorting results by “Rank” (Ex.: “The Godfather at No. 1; ”Crash“ at No. 77), but soon switched to “Percentile Rank” (0% to 100%, with 100% being best) because it gives a better sense of the popularity of the films. Emily, for example, who only watched 21 movies, ranked “Slumdog Millionare” as her least favorite (#21), putting that film on even footing with a very good film that was ranked #21 by someone who has seen most or all of the best pictures. CM Gardner saw 81 filmes and ranked “Schindler’s List” as #21. Putting it in terms of percentage makes it easier to see how people feel about the movies.

So what are the most-popular best pictures? Here is our top 20:

No. Title Year Views Avg Score
1 The Godfather 1972 67 84.36
2 Casablanca 1943 67 82.87
3 All About Eve 1950 61 80.6
4 The Godfather Part II 1974 62 79.36
5 Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans 1928 29 78.67
6 Annie Hall 1977 66 75.34
7 Schindler's List 1993 66 71.66
8 Gone with the Wind 1939 64 70.86
9 Lawrence of Arabia 1962 55 69.6
10 The Silence of the Lambs 1991 69 68.65
11 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 1975 66 68.33
12 The Apartment 1960 56 67.35
13 On the Waterfront 1954 55 67.13
14 Amadeus 1984 62 67.04
15 No Country for Old Men 2007 67 64.97
16 It Happened One Night 1934 50 64.07
17 Rebecca 1940 49 62.91
18 The Deer Hunter 1978 49 62.41
19 The Bridge on the River Kwai 1957 47 62.02
20 All Quiet on the Western Front 1930 30 59.1

I'm pleasantly surprised that “Annie Hall,” a favorite of mine, ranks so high. I expected “Lawrence” to be a bit higher. But overall these are the expected best-of-the-best-pictures. The best pictures with status and gravitas.

All the decades are represented: One from the 1920s (an unofficial one, unfortunately), three from the '30s, two from the '40s, three from the '50s, two from the '60s, five from the 1970s, one from the '80s, two from the '90s, and one from the aughts. We'll cut the 2010s some slack. As Karen C. sang, it's only just begun.

The next 20:

No. Title Year Views Avg Score
21 The Departed 2006 58 59
22 West Side Story 1961 61 58.18
23 Unforgiven 1992 56 57.98
24 The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King 2003 64 56.86
25 Midnight Cowboy 1969 55 56.49
26 The Best Years of Our Lives 1946 33 56.48
27 The Hurt Locker 2009 65 55.42
28 The Sound of Music 1965 62 54.52
29 From Here to Eternity 1953 45 54.2
30 American Beauty 1999 66 54.18
31 The French Connection 1971 47 53.64
32 Ordinary People 1980 48 52.92
33 Platoon 1986 53 52.74
34 Terms of Endearment 1983 52 48.36
35 Kramer vs. Kramer 1979 58 48.35
36 The Sting 1973 49 48.34
37 The English Patient 1996 60 47.14
38 A Man for All Seasons 1966 37 46.91
39 Hamlet 1948 30 46.38
40 Patton 1970 35 45.91

I think of “West Side Story” as firt tier but modern moviegoers have generally been tough on musicals. Surprised “The English Patient” is so high. Don't people listen to Elaine Benes? Or Brenda? Ditto “Kramer vs. Kramer.” “Better than 'Hamlet.'”

The next 20:

No. Title Year Views Avg Score
41 My Fair Lady 1964 58 45.69
42 An American in Paris 1951 48 45.34
43 The Lost Weekend 1945 34 44.9
44 Grand Hotel 1932 29 43.68
45 The Artist 2011 65 43.06
46 The Last Emperor 1987 47 42.46
47 Chicago 2002 60 42.34
48 All the King's Men 1949 29 42.13
49 In the Heat of the Night 1967 45 41.91
50 Titanic 1997 69 41.11
51 Wings 1927 20 40.99
52 Ben-Hur 1959 51 40.18
53 How Green Was My Valley 1941 29 39.9
54 Shakespeare in Love 1998 69 39.61
55 Mutiny of the Bounty 1935 28 39.53
56 The King's Speech 2010 64 38.16
57 Mrs. Miniver 1942 26 38.13
58 You Can't Take it With You 1938 29 38.11
59 Oliver! 1968 42 37.41
60 Rocky 1976 55 36.58

“An American in Paris” should be higher. I'm also a fan of “The Last Emperor,” if only to look at its beautiful colors. One of these days I'll have to finally see “Ben-Hur,” if only for the Gore Vidal subtext.

Heading to the bottom now.

No. Title Year Views Avg Score
61 Ghandi 1982 51 36.15
62 Million Dollar Baby 2004 60 35.54
63 Rain Man 1988 60 35.44
64 Slumdog Millionaire 2008 71 34.93
65 Out of Africa 1985 48 34.19
66 Gladiator 2000 66 34.18
67 Forrest Gump 1994 71 34.08
68 The Life of Emile Zola 1937 11 32.69
69 Chariots of Fire 1981 51 32.37
70 Marty 1955 32 31.52
71 Tom Jones 1963 30 30.96
72 Dances with Wolves 1990 56 30.19
73 A Beautiful Mind 2001 66 26.39
74 Gigi 1958 34 25.88
75 Braveheart 1995 61 25.47
76 Driving Miss Daisy 1989 56 25.24
77 Gentleman's Agreement 1947 26 24.97
78 Going My Way 1944 19 22.32
79 The Great Ziegfeld 1936 16 18.19
80 The Greatest Show on Earth 1952 28 15.23

While I'm surprised moviegoers have been as unimpressed with “Gentleman's Agreement” as I've been, these are definitely the “meh” best pictures. How sad that the Academy has given us so much “meh” under the guise of “best.”

Finally, the dregs:

No. Title Year Views Avg Score
81 Crash 2005 62 14.92
82 Around the World in 80 Days 1956 32 13.2
83 Cimarron 1931 12 12.61
84 Cavalcade 1933 12 8.44
85 The Broadway Melody 1929 13 5.63

An argument can be made that unfamiliarity breeds contempt, since the bottom five is littered with the best pictures most of us haven't seen. An easier explanation is the moviegoers who have seen them, and ranked them, are the Oscar watchers, the true cineastes, who are more discriminating in their tastes. They're a tougher crowd. Which makes “Crash”'s bottom-five turnout all the more impressive.

Have you had your say yet? (VOTE HERE.) It's never too late. This is an ongoing project. Because it's not just the Academy judging movies; it's moviegoers judging the Academy.

Michael Corleone and Vito Corleone confer in "The Godfather" (1972), the best of the best pictures

The movie readers consider the best of the best pictures didn't win best director.

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Posted at 08:28 AM on Feb 24, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Saturday February 23, 2013

Crunching the Numbers: Which Best Pictures are Most-Seen, Least-Seen, and Most Beloved?

best pictures

Our friend and neighbor and oft-time reader, Vinny, who has his own blog, The Sayings of Uncle Vinny, recently crunched the numbers on the 71 readers who have ranked Oscar’s best picture winners. This is what he came up with.


Some analysis of votes received in Erik Lundegaard’s “Rank Oscar’s Best Picture Winners.”

First, a note on “ranking” vs “percentile rank.”

I started out sorting results by “Rank” (Ex.: “The Godfather at No. 1; ”Crash“ at No. 77), but soon switched to “Percentile Rank” (0% to 100%, with 100% being best) because it gives a better sense of the popularity of the films. Emily, for example, who only watched 21 movies, ranked “Slumdog Millionare” as her least favorite (#21), putting that film on even footing with a very good film that was ranked #21 by someone who has seen most or all of the best pictures. CM Gardner saw 81 filmes and ranked “Schindler’s List” as #21. Putting it in terms of percentage makes it easier to see how people feel about the movies.

What do we love? What do we hate?
“The Godfather,” no surprise, has the best overall ranking, with an average percentile rank of 84.4% (+/- 16). It was seen by nearly everyone (67 of the 71 readers). It's also the least-hated film on the list. Its lowest score was 30.3%, which might sound bad, but the next least-hated film is “Schindler’s List,” which still hit a low of 24.4% on somebody’s list. From there the “minimum” scores swiftly descend into the low teens, with a full 75 of the 85 films hated by someone: Each of them scored in someone’s bottom 10%.

Here are the nine films that stayed out of the bottom 10% on everyone’s lists:

title year Avg Score Lowest Score
The Godfather 1972 84.36 30.3
Schindler's List 1993 71.66 24.39
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 1975 68.33 19.05
Casablanca 1943 82.87 18.57
In the Heat of the Night 1967 41.91 14.81
The Bridge on the River Kwai 1957 62.02 13.21
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans 1928 78.67 12.82
The Best Years of Our Lives 1946 56.48 11.29
Hamlet 1948 46.38 10.34

Only three films failed to crack the top 50% on anyone’s list: “The Broadway Melody” (27% at its highest), “The Great Ziegfeld” (41%) and “Cavalcade” (41%). In the same way that very few movies were hated by nobody, very few movies didn’t have some love showered on them by somebody: 77 of the 85 made it into the top 20% of at least one list.

Here are those unbeloved eight films:

title year Avg Score Best Score
The Broadway Melody 1929 5.63 27.16
The Great Ziegfeld 1936 18.19 41.18
Cavalcade 1933 8.44 41.38
Cimarron 1931 12.61 71.43
The Greatest Show on Earth 1952 15.23 75.29
Rocky 1976 36.58 76.32
Tom Jones 1963 30.96 78.21
Marty 1955 31.52 79.66

Opinion differed the most on “All Quiet on the Western Front”, where 30 voters gave a spread (standard deviation) of 30 points  around the average score of ~60%. Nobody was confused about “The Broadway Melody,” whose standard deviation was only 7.5% around a score of 5.6%. Ouch!

What have we seen?
The average voter has seen 57 of the 85 films. Two people have only seen 21 while three saw all 85. The least-seen movie was “The Life of Emile Zola,” with only 11 viewings. Two films, “Forrest Gump and “Slumdog Millionaire,” were seen by everyone.

Here are the 10 most-viewed best-picture winners. Well, 14 most-viewed. A big tie at the end there. Second sort on chronology:

title year TimesViewed
Forrest Gump 1994 71
Slumdog Millionaire 2008 71
The Silence of the Lambs 1991 69
Titanic 1997 69
Shakespeare in Love 1998 69
Casablanca 1943 67
The Godfather 1972 67
No Country for Old Men 2007 67
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 1975 66
Annie Hall 1977 66
Schindler's List 1993 66
American Beauty 1999 66
Gladiator 2000 66
A Beautiful Mind 2001 66

And here are the 10 (well, 11) least-viewed best-picture winners:

title year TimesViewed
The Life of Emile Zola 1937 11
Cimarron 1931 12
Cavalcade 1933 12
The Broadway Melody 1929 13
The Great Ziegfeld 1936 16
Going My Way 1944 19
Wings 1927 20
Mrs. Miniver 1942 26
Gentleman's Agreement 1947 26
Mutiny of the Bounty 1935 28
The Greatest Show on Earth 1952 28

More to come...

The worst best pictures?

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Posted at 01:17 PM on Feb 23, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Friday February 22, 2013

38e cérémonie des César: Amour, Amour, Amour

The French held their Academy Awards today and it was all about Michael Haneke's “Amour,” which won best picture, director, actor, actress, and original screenplay. It did the “Cuckoo's Nest,” in other words.

“Rust and Bone” (“De rouille et d'os”), my favorite film of 2012, which was nominated in nine categories, won best adapted screenplay and best rising star (male).

“Argo” won best foreign film (it's the year for movies beginning with “A”), while Kevin Costner was given a career achievement award.

The results en francaise:

  • Meilleur film: Amour
  • Meilleur réalisateur: Michael Haneke pour Amour
  • Meilleur acteur: Jean-Louis Trintignant pour le rôle de Georges dans Amour
  • Meilleur actrice: Emmanuelle Riva pour le rôle d'Anne dans Amour
  • Meilleur acteur dans un second rôle: Guillaume de Tonquédec pour le rôle de Claude dans Le Prénom
  • Meilleure actrice dans un second rôle: Valérie Benguigui pour le rôle d'Elisabeth dans Le Prénom
  • Meilleur espoir masculin: Matthias Schoenaerts pour le rôle d'Ali dans De rouille et d'os
  • Meilleur espoir feminine: Izïa Higelin pour le rôle de Louise dans Mauvaise Fille
  • Meilleur scénario original: Amour – Michael Haneke
  • Meilleure adaptation: De rouille et d'os – Jacques Audiard et Thomas Bidegain, adapté du recueil de nouvelles Rust and Bone de Craig Davidson
  • Meilleur film étranger: Argo de Ben Affleck
  • Kevin Costner pour l'ensemble de sa carrière.

Emmanuelle Riva won best actress in Michael Haneke's "Amour" at the 38th annual Cesars in Paris

Emmanuelle Riva won best actress in Michael Haneke's “Amour” at the 38th annual Cesars in Paris.

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Posted at 05:31 PM on Feb 22, 2013 in category Movies - Awards
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Quote of the Day

“The broadcast. I’d almost forgotten that’s what it was: an event in which the intended audience was elsewhere, in anonymous living rooms stocked with chips and wine. You knew this because of the time-outs for commercials that broke the show’s momentum every few minutes, reducing it to a series of short, lame bits that forced us—the supposed chosen ones, who were really just extras brought in to fill the shots—to cravenly, insincerely applaud a show that sucked even worse in real life than on television ...

”That night confirmed my suspicions: The heart of the matter with the Oscars, and with Hollywood generally, is that there is none. Just when you think you’ve reached the epicenter, the VIP room within the VIP room, a shift occurs, a reversal of perspective, and you find that you’re on the inside looking out with much the same sense of longing and displacement you felt when you were looking in.“

-- Walter Kirn in his New Republic piece, ”Oscar Grouch: I'd like to thank the Academy for nothing,“ about attending the Oscars in 2010 when his novel, ”Up in the Air,“ was turned into a film starring George Clooney and nominated for six Oscars. It won none.

George Clooney in "Up in the Air" (2009)

Kirn: ”I did feel bad for Clooney, though. The junkets had endeared the guy to me. He’d hit on my girlfriend, which I took as a compliment. He’d refrained from sleeping with my girlfriend, which I counted as a favor."

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Posted at 08:50 AM on Feb 22, 2013 in category Quote of the Day
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Want to Be Taken Seriously?

In my InBox this morning...

Want to be taken seriously? Become a better writer

The key word, the word that prevents argument, is “better.” Become a good writer? I am a good writer. Become a better writer? Well, even James Joyce can't argue.

You can argue with the enticement: to be taken seriously. Is that something to be desired in a less-than-serious country? And, if desired, would becoming a better writer achieve that goal? Most writers, who work in the dark and do what we can and give what we have, assume writing is a great path to not be taken seriously. Being taken seriously involves mostly one thing; one weird trick, as they say: how much do you make?

My friend and fellow writer Andy on all the failure that goes into writing. “To get it wrong so many times,” as E.I. Lonoff said.

My favorite part of the email? “Tailored For You.”

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Posted at 08:05 AM on Feb 22, 2013 in category Culture
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Thursday February 21, 2013

My Q&A with Oscar's Lawyers

During the day, as many of you know, I'm the editor-in-chief for a national legal publication. Mornings I do this. Recently I combined interests. For the most recent issue in Southern California I interviewed the general counsel and main lawyer (John Quinn and David Quinto, respectively) for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The Oscars. 

It was fun and informative. I never thought about gatecrashers at the Oscars before--not being a gatecrasher myself and never guarding a gate worth crashing. I never thought that the script for the show has to go through lawyers:

Me: Earlier you mentioned you have to look at the Academy Award show script for approval. What are some examples of things you’ve flagged in the past?

Quinto: One year there was a joke about an actress that suggested she had been having sex out of wedlock with a minor.

Quinn: And we said, “You really can’t do this.”

Quinto: And the response from the producer was, “Look, I heard a joke about Jerry Buss going to Cedar Sinai to wait for his next wife to be born.” And I said, “That’s completely different. The imputation of a lack of chastity to a man is a lot different than the imputation of a lack of chastity to a woman. Plus, what you don’t know,” I said to the producer, “is that the Academy had a dispute this year with that particular actress.” The Academy had threatened a lawsuit. The whole thing was resolved confidentially. But if anyone had a reason to be sore with the Academy at that moment, it was that actress. That was one time I raised a challenge.

Me: Was it listened to?

Quinto: It was listened to. Another time there was a hysterically funny joke about an unnamed baseball player on steroids, and ABC broadcast standards said, “Look, people will tell in a nanosecond that this joke is about Barry Bonds. We’ll be sued. So the joke has to be cut.” And I said, “No, no. I’m a litigator. And as a litigator, I can tell you Barry Bonds will not sue. If he were to sue all his medical records would be open to discovery. He doesn’t want that.” So they kept it in. I thought it got good laughter during rehearsals but they cut it on the basis that it didn’t get enough laughs.

I love all that. I love this sentence: “The imputation of a lack of chastity to a man is a lot different than the imputation of a lack of chastity to a woman.” It's not funny cuz it's true. 

Then there's the discussion of the riders (in effect since 1950) that Oscar winners must sign:

Quinn: When you receive your Oscar, before you take physical possession, you’ll be asked to sign a rider for a first refusal agreement. Basically, before transferring or selling it to anybody, you will offer it to the Academy for one dollar. The Academy is of the view that Oscar statuettes shouldn’t be articles of commerce. They are unique recognitions of achievement, and they shouldn’t be purchased and sold in the marketplace. So from time to time, somebody tries to sell one, and we’re in court seeking injunction against the sale.

Check out the whole Q&A. Digital version is here. A friend who once lived and worked in Hollywood called it “the best behind-the-scenes-at-the-Oscars piece I've read since Edgar Bergen won the Woodie.” Which I think is a compliment.

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Posted at 03:18 PM on Feb 21, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Wednesday February 20, 2013

Quote of the Day

“I am so afraid that my life is living me, and soon will be over, and not a moment of it will have been my own.”

-- Alma Garret (Molly Parker) in the final episode of the second season of “Deadwood,” “Boy-the-Earth-Talks-To,” written by Ted Mann. Yeah, I know, we're late to the party.

Alma Garret (Molly Dodd) in "Deadwood"

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Posted at 03:58 PM on Feb 20, 2013 in category Quote of the Day
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Edward Copeland Ranks the Best Pictures: from 'Casablanca' to 'The Broadway Melody'

Casablanca starring Humphrey BogartEdward Copeland Ranks the Best Pictures

1. Casablanca (1943)
2. The Godfather (1972)
3. Annie Hall (1977)
4. All About Eve (1950)
5. The Apartment (1960)
6. It Happened One Night (1934)
7. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
8. On the Waterfront (1954)
9. Amadeus (1984)
10. Schindler’s List (1993)

11. Gone with the Wind (1939)
12. The Godfather Part II (1974)
13. Terms of Endearment (1983)
14. No Country for Old Men (2007)
15. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
16. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
17. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
18. The Last Emperor (1987)
19. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
20. The Sting (1973)

21. The Departed (2006)
22. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
23. West Side Story (1961)
24. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
25. Unforgiven (1992)
26. Grand Hotel (1932)
27. From Here to Eternity (1953)
28. Rebecca (1940)
29. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
30. In the Heat of the Night (1967)

31. Ghandi (1982)
32. My Fair Lady (1964)
33. Marty (1955)
34. American Beauty (1999)
35. Forrest Gump (1994)
36. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
37. Out of Africa (1985)
38. Rocky (1976)
39. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
40. Oliver! (1968)

41. Chicago (2002)
42. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
43. Mutiny of the Bounty (1935)
44. The Sound of Music (1965)
45. The French Connection (1971)
46. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
47. Gigi (1958)
48. Hamlet (1948)
49. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
50. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

51. All the King’s Men (1949)
52. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
53. Tom Jones (1963)
54. The English Patient (1996)
55. The Lost Weekend (1945)
56. Ordinary People (1980)
57. Cavalcade (1933)
58. Patton (1970)
59. An American in Paris (1951)
60. The Hurt Locker (2009)

61. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
62. Crash (2005)
63. Going My Way (1944)
64. Wings (1927)
65. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
66. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
67. Chariots of Fire (1981)
68. Rain Man (1988)
69. The Artist (2011)
70. Mrs. Miniver (1942)

71. The King’s Speech (2010)
72. Titanic (1997)
73. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
74. Dances with Wolves (1990)
75. Platoon (1986)
76. Braveheart (1995)
77. Ben-Hur (1959)
78. The Deer Hunter (1978)
79. Gladiator (2000)
80. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

81. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
82. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
83. Cimarron (1931)
84. The Broadway Melody (1929)

Haven't seen

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1928)

Edward's comment

I've seen “Sunrise” and it would rank high but I left it out since it doesn't count as a best picture winner.

My comment

Interesting. We may have to amend the interactive feature. Well, we'll have to amend it anyway in a week when we get a new best picture, but Edward is right. “Sunrise” was voted the “Unique and Artistic Picture” in 1929. The “Outstanding Picture” that year, forerunner to best picture, went to “Wings.”  See his fascinating blog post on this and other Oscar subjects.
But considering how well “Sunrise” had held up and “Wings” has not, it makes me wish the Academy had kept the former category. One wonders what it would have looked like through the years, and what artistry it might have inspired in other filmmakers.

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 10:15 AM on Feb 20, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Anne Thompson Ranks the Best Pictures: from 'Lawrence of Arabia' to 'Going My Way'

poster for David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia"Anne Thompson Ranks the Best Pictures

1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
2. The Apartment (1960)
3. It Happened One Night (1934)
4. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
5. Annie Hall (1977)
6. All About Eve (1950)
7. The Godfather (1972)
8. Gone with the Wind (1939)
9. Casablanca (1943)
10. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1928)

11. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
12. The Godfather Part II (1974)
13. The Last Emperor (1987)
14. Unforgiven (1992)
15. No Country for Old Men (2007)
16. On the Waterfront (1954)
17. Schindler’s List (1993)
18. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
19. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
20. Amadeus (1984)

21. Platoon (1986)
22. Ben-Hur (1959)
23. Titanic (1997)
24. The Deer Hunter (1978)
25. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
26. An American in Paris (1951)
27. The Sound of Music (1965)
28. Oliver! (1968)
29. The Departed (2006)
30. From Here to Eternity (1953)

31. Patton (1970)
32. Gladiator (2000)
33. Hamlet (1948)
34. Braveheart (1995)
35. The Hurt Locker (2009)
36. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
37. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
38. Tom Jones (1963)
39. The English Patient (1996)
40. Terms of Endearment (1983)

41. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
42. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
43. The King’s Speech (2010)
44. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
45. Gigi (1958)
46. Out of Africa (1985)
47. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
48. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
49. The Lost Weekend (1945)
50. How Green Was My Valley (1941)

51. Rebecca (1940)
52. American Beauty (1999)
53. Forrest Gump (1994)
54. The Artist (2011)
55. Ghandi (1982)
56. The French Connection (1971)
57. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
58. Ordinary People (1980)
59. Mutiny of the Bounty (1935)
60. Rain Man (1988)

61. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
62. West Side Story (1961)
63. Chariots of Fire (1981)
64. Dances with Wolves (1990)
65. Rocky (1976)
66. The Sting (1973)
67. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
68. Grand Hotel (1932)
69. Chicago (2002)
70. Marty (1955)

71. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
72. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
73. My Fair Lady (1964)
74. Crash (2005)
75. Wings (1927)
76. Going My Way (1944)

Haven’t seen

The Broadway Melody (1929)
Cimarron (1931)
Cavalcade (1933)
The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
All the King’s Men (1949)
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Anne's comment (on her Twitter feed)

Cinema buffs, I warn you that ranking the Best Picture Oscar winners is a serious time suck.

My comment

Indeed. The biggest issue with these movies is the lack of passion we have, for or against, for most of them. Most are just shrugs. Makes me almost happy for “Crash.” Something to make me shake my first rather than toss up my hands.
Ms. Thompson can be followed, of course, at Thompson on Hollywood

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 07:08 AM on Feb 20, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Tuesday February 19, 2013

Like Minds

This is from my January 1, 2013 review of Quentin Tantino's “Django Unchained”:

What is the next historic horror Quentin Tarantino will turn into a spaghetti-western-style revenge fantasy? ... History is nothing but groups of people being fucked over while the movies are all about wish-fulfillment fantasy. So why not meld the two? The Bible is full of revenge fantasies as well. Maybe that’s the next direction? “Quentin Tarantino’s The Bible.” That’s a title he’d dig. He’d dig it the most, baby.

And this is what “Saturday Night Live” came up with last week when Christoph Waltz hosted.

It's not bad. I like the line: “The H is silent.” It's a good Brad-Pitt-in-“Basterds” imitation. But it never lives up to the premise. It just melds the story of the Prince of Peace with Tarantino's violence. We're supposed to laugh at what we already know. We're supposed to laugh with recognition at the familiar bits rather than with surprise.

Christoph Waltz in Tarantino parody, "Djesus Uncrossed" on SNL

I think “less violent” takes a hyphen, too.

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Posted at 11:53 AM on Feb 19, 2013 in category Movies
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The Worst Best Picture

The worst of the best pictures?

Thus far, 61 people have sent me their rankings of the Academy's choices for best picture from 1927 to 2011. That's about 55 more people than I thought we were going to get. Two days ago I listed off who's winning in the best best-picture race. This is a post about who's losing. Which is the worst best picture the Academy has chosen?

It's not much of a surprise.

Oddly, save for that one film, there is generally less agreement on which of the Academy's best pictures is worst. Those 61 readers chose 19 different movies in the No. 1 slot but 29 different movies for last place.

Here are the 18 best pictures who received just one vote as our worst best picture:

  • The Broadway Melody (1929)
  • Cimarron (1931)
  • The Great Ziegfield (1936)
  • How Green Was My Valley (1941)
  • Mrs. Miniver (1942)
  • Midnight Cowboy (1969)
  • The French Connection (1971)
  • Terms of Endearment (1983)
  • Amadeus (1984)
  • Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
  • Unforgiven (1992)
  • Titanic (1997)
  • Chicago (2002)
  • The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
  • Million Dollar Baby (2004)
  • The Departed (2006)
  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
  • The Hurt Locker (2009)

I know. “Unforgiven”? “Amadeus”? But there 'tis.

Four movies received two votes each:

  • Rocky (1976)
  • Gandhi (1982)
  • Forrest Gump (1994)
  • Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Five movies received three votes each:

  • Cavalcade (1933)
  • The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
  • Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
  • Dances with Wolves (1990)
  • A Beautiful Mind (2001)

There's a surprise, at least to me, for our second-worst movie. With four votes:

  • Braveheart (1995)

No surprise at all, as I said, with our choice for the worst best picture the Academy ever chose. In a landslide with 16 votes:

  • Crash (2005)

Make sure you get your votes in. We'll be parsing the numbers on a deeper level soon.

the worst of the best pictures?

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Posted at 07:11 AM on Feb 19, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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GOB Bluth (Kevin) Ranks the Best Pictures: from 'The Godfather Part II' to 'The Greatest Show on Earth'

The Godfather Part IIGOB Bluth (Kevin) Ranks the Best Pictures

1. The Godfather Part II (1974)
2. The Sound of Music (1965)
3. No Country for Old Men (2007)
4. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
5. Terms of Endearment (1983)
6. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1928)
7. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
8. The Godfather (1972)
9. Schindler’s List (1993)
10. Gone with the Wind (1939)

11. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
12. Casablanca (1943)
13. Forrest Gump (1994)
14. Annie Hall (1977)
15. All About Eve (1950)
16. Ordinary People (1980)
17. The Departed (2006)
18. Braveheart (1995)
19. Gladiator (2000)
20. American Beauty (1999)

21. The Hurt Locker (2009)
22. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
23. It Happened One Night (1934)
24. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
25. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
26. The French Connection (1971)
27. Unforgiven (1992)
28. Patton (1970)
29. On the Waterfront (1954)
30. Dances with Wolves (1990)

31. Platoon (1986)
32. Ghandi (1982)
33. The King’s Speech (2010)
34. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
35. The Deer Hunter (1978)
36. Rocky (1976)
37. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
38. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
39. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
40. The Sting (1973)

41. Chicago (2002)
42. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
43. Titanic (1997)
44. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
45. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
46. My Fair Lady (1964)
47. Chariots of Fire (1981)
48. West Side Story (1961)
49. An American in Paris (1951)
50. The Apartment (1960)

51. Rain Man (1988)
52. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
53. Gigi (1958)
54. The Lost Weekend (1945)
55. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
56. Going My Way (1944)
57. From Here to Eternity (1953)
58. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
59. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
60. The English Patient (1996)

61. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
62. Oliver! (1968)
63. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
64. All the King’s Men (1949)
65. Grand Hotel (1932)
66. Mutiny of the Bounty (1935)
67. Marty (1955)
68. Amadeus (1984)
69. The Artist (2011)
70. Ben-Hur (1959)

71. Out of Africa (1985)
72. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
73. Rebecca (1940)
74. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
75. Hamlet (1948)
76. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
77. Crash (2005)
78. The Last Emperor (1987)
79. Tom Jones (1963)
80. Wings (1927)

81. Cimarron (1931)
82. Cavalcade (1933)
83. The Broadway Melody (1929)
84. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
85. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

My comment

A third reader listing all 85 movies! And another victory for Coppola and another defeat for the Academy in 1952, which chose “Greatest Show” over “High Noon,” and didn't bother to nominate “Singin' in the Rain.” Agree with the low placement for “Around the World in 80 Days,” which is dullsville, a Cinemascope travellogue; but “Last Emperor” below “Crash”? I'll take the former just for its colors. Its yellows.

In other news, how's the magic show coming?

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 06:39 AM on Feb 19, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Monday February 18, 2013

Stat of the Day

“How bad has Seattle's offense been in recent seasons? The Mariners scored 106 more runs in 2012 than they did in 2010 ... and still finished last in the AL in runs scored.”

-- David Schoenfield, in his post, “Offseason report card: Mariners” on the Sweet Spot blog on ESPN.com. I've written about the Mariners' dismal offense a lot—it's what we have—but eventually we have to break free from this, right? At least Schoenfield thinks so. He predicts the M's break .500 in 2013.

Safeco Field in downtown Seattle

Fences in, Dustin and Justin a year older, the addition of Kendrys and Raul and the subtraction of Chone: so maybe the M's won't finish last in runs in 2013?

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Posted at 04:20 PM on Feb 18, 2013 in category Seattle Mariners
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Why is FDR Hanging with the Three Stooges? Everything You Didn't Want to Know About Screen Portrayals of U.S. Presidents, and Didn't Ask

For Washington and Lincoln it was a silent short (“Washington Under the British Flag” and “His First Commission,” respectively). For Grover Cleveland, it was a James Cagney/Humphrey Bogart western (“The Oklahoma Kid”). JFK got an episode of a forgotten TV show, “Navy Log,” LBJ got “Batman: The Movie,” and FDR, believe it or not, got the Three Stooges.

These are the first moments our presidents have been portrayed on screen. Per IMDb.com.

Some surprising revelations. Herbert Hoover (1929-33) was never portrayed on screen until 1979's “Backstairs at the White House,” a mini-series attempting to combine “Upstairs Downstairs” with “Roots.” Then there's James Buchanan (1957-61), who has been portrayed only once, voicework by David Gergen, in the 2000 PBS documentary “The American President.” At least he had John Updike watching his back.

More recent presidents, of course, are first spoofed on television, generally “Saturday Night Live,” which has given us our first screen portraits, or caricatures, of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The British series “Spitting Image” beat them to George H.W. Bush, while “The 1/2 News Hour” beat them to Barack Obama.

Speaking of the Bushes: IMDb.com needs to fix its algorithms, since it includes obvious H.W. characters (a 1990 “Golden Girls” episode, voiced by Harry Shearer, for example) under W.'s character page. The site also includes the “Richard Nixon” thug in Godard's “Made in U.S.A.” on Nixon's character page. I've tried to adjust the numbers accordingly but take these numbers with a grain of salt. Treat them, in other words, as you would campaign promises.

Oh yes, and in case you were wondering, Lincoln wins. By a longshot.

Here are our 44 presidents in order of first cinematic appearance:

  President Port. First Appearance First Actor
1 George Washington  154 Washington Under the British Flag (1909) Joseph Kilgour
2 John Adams  54 The Declaration of Indepedence (1911) Harry Linson
3 Thomas Jefferson  125 The Declaration of Indepedence (1911) Marc McDermott
4 James Madison  27 Old Louisiana (1937) Ramsay Hill
5 James Monroe  11 The Beautiful Mrs. Reynolds (1918) Charles Brandt
6 John Quincy Adams  8 The Declaration of Indepedence (1911) Robert Emmett Tansey
7 Andrew Jackson  47 My Own United States (1918) F.C. Earle
8 Martin Van Buren  4 The Gorgeous Hussy (1936) Charles Trowbridge
9 William Henry Harrison  7 Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942) Douglass Dumbrille
11 James K. Polk  8 The Monroe Doctrine (1939) Edwin Stanley
12 Zachary Taylor  8 The Fall of Blackhawk (1912) George Cole
13 Millard Fillmore  4 The Monroe Doctrine (1939) Millard Vincent
14 Franklin Pierce  2 The Great Moment (1944) Porter Hall
15 James Buchanan  1 The American President (2000) David Gergen (voice)
16 Abraham Lincoln  327 His First Commisson (1911) Charles Brabin
17 Andrew Johnson  6 In the Days of Buffalo Bill (1922) Harry Myers
18 Ulysses S. Grant  94 The Battle of Shiloh (1913) John Smiley
19 Rutherford B. Hayes  7 The Flag of Humanity (1940) Joe King
20 James A. Garfield  7 The Night Riders (1939) Francis Sayles
21 Chester A. Arthur  3 Silver Dollar (1932) Emmett Corrigan
22 Grover Cleveland  9 The Oklahoma Kid (1939) Stuart Holmes
23 Benjamin Harrison  2 Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) Roy Gordon
25 William McKinley  11 A Message to Garcia (1936) John Carradine
26 Theodore Roosevelt  86 Why America Will Win (1917) W.E. Whittle
27 William Howard Taft  5 The Winds of Kitty Hawk (TV) (1978) Ross Durfee
28 Woodrow Wilson  31 The Sons of a Soldier (1913) Frederick Truesdell
29 Warren G. Harding  5 The Legendary Curse of the Hope Diamond (TV) (1975) Harry Dean Stanton
30 Calvin Coolidge  5 The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955) Ed Flanders
31 Herbert Hoover  8 “Backstairs at the White House” (1979) Larry Gates
32 Franklin D. Roosevelt  97 Cash and Carry (1937) Al Richardson
33 Harry S. Truman  34 The Beginning or The End (1947) Art Baker
34 Dwight D. Eisenhower  37 The Long Gray Line (1955) Harry Carey, Jr.
35 John F. Kennedy  86 “Navy Log” (1957) John Baer
36 Lyndon B. Johnson  32 Batman: The Movie (1966) Van Johnson (voice)
37 Richard Nixon  81 Eulogy for RFK (1968) Marty Rednor
38 Gerald Ford  15 “Saturday Night Live” (1975) Chevy Chase
39 Jimmy Carter  23 “Saturday Night Live” (1976) Dan Aykroyd
40 Ronald Reagan  46 “Saturday Night Live” (1976) Chevy Chase
41 George H. W. Bush  27 “Spitting Image” (1986) John Glover
42 Bill Clinton  74 “Saturday Night Live” (1992) Phil Hartman
43 George W. Bush  112 “Saturday Night Live” (2000) Will Ferrell
44 Barack Obama 80 “The 1/2 News Hour” (2007) Ron Butler

  And here they are as ranked by how often they've been portrayed on screen. Interestingly, W. beats FDR. But U.S. Grant is ahead of Teddy Roosevelt? I guess the Civil War helps:

  President Port. First Appearance First Actor
16 Abraham Lincoln  327 His First Commisson (1911) Charles Brabin
1 George Washington  154 Washington Under the British Flag (1909) Joseph Kilgour
3 Thomas Jefferson  125 The Declaration of Indepedence (1911) Marc McDermott
43 George W. Bush  112 “Saturday Night Live” (2000) Will Ferrell
32 Franklin D. Roosevelt  97 Cash and Carry (1937) Al Richardson
18 Ulysses S. Grant  94 The Battle of Shiloh (1913) John Smiley
26 Theodore Roosevelt  86 Why America Will Win (1917) W.E. Whittle
35 John F. Kennedy  86 “Navy Log” (1957) John Baer
37 Richard Nixon  81 Eulogy for RFK (1968) Marty Rednor
44 Barack Obama 80 “The 1/2 News Hour” (2007) Ron Butler
42 Bill Clinton  74 “Saturday Night Live” (1992) Phil Hartman
2 John Adams  54 The Declaration of Indepedence (1911) Harry Linson
7 Andrew Jackson  47 My Own United States (1918) F.C. Earle
40 Ronald Reagan  46 “Saturday Night Live” (1976) Chevy Chase
34 Dwight D. Eisenhower  37 The Long Gray Line (1955) Harry Carey, Jr.
33 Harry S. Truman  34 The Beginning or The End (1947) Art Baker
36 Lyndon B. Johnson  32 Batman: The Movie (1966) Van Johnson (voice)
28 Woodrow Wilson  31 The Sons of a Soldier (1913) Frederick Truesdell
4 James Madison  27 Old Louisiana (1937) Ramsay Hill
41 George H. W. Bush  27 “Spitting Image” (1986) John Glover
39 Jimmy Carter  23 “Saturday Night Live” (1976) Dan Aykroyd
38 Gerald Ford  15 “Saturday Night Live” (1975) Chevy Chase
5 James Monroe  11 The Beautiful Mrs. Reynolds (1918) Charles Brandt
25 William McKinley  11 A Message to Garcia (1936) John Carradine
22 Grover Cleveland  9 The Oklahoma Kid (1939) Stuart Holmes
6 John Quincy Adams  8 The Declaration of Indepedence (1911) Robert Emmett Tansey
11 James K. Polk  8 The Monroe Doctrine (1939) Edwin Stanley
12 Zachary Taylor  8 The Fall of Blackhawk (1912) George Cole
31 Herbert Hoover  8 “Backstairs at the White House” (1979) Larry Gates
9 William Henry Harrison  7 Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942) Douglass Dumbrille
19 Rutherford B. Hayes  7 The Flag of Humanity (1940) Joe King
20 James A. Garfield  7 The Night Riders (1939) Francis Sayles
17 Andrew Johnson  6 In the Days of Buffalo Bill (1922) Harry Myers
27 William Howard Taft  5 The Winds of Kitty Hawk (TV) (1978) Ross Durfee
29 Warren G. Harding  5 The Legendary Curse of the Hope Diamond (TV) (1975) Harry Dean Stanton
30 Calvin Coolidge  5 The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955) Ed Flanders
8 Martin Van Buren  4 The Gorgeous Hussy (1936) Charles Trowbridge
13 Millard Fillmore  4 The Monroe Doctrine (1939) Millard Vincent
21 Chester A. Arthur  3 Silver Dollar (1932) Emmett Corrigan
14 Franklin Pierce  2 The Great Moment (1944) Porter Hall
23 Benjamin Harrison  2 Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) Roy Gordon
15 James Buchanan  1 The American President (2000) David Gergen (voice)

FDR and the Three Stooges

FDR: “As for you gentlemen, I find it possible to extend to you executive clemency.”
Curly: “No, please not that.”

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Posted at 11:02 AM on Feb 18, 2013 in category Movies
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David Murphy Ranks the Best Pictures: from 'Lawrence of Arabia' to 'Crash'

Lawrence of ArabiaDavid Murphy Ranks the Best Pictures

1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
2. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1928)
3. The Godfather Part II (1974)
4. The Godfather (1972)
5. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
6. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
7. Annie Hall (1977)
8. Casablanca (1943)
9. The Apartment (1960)
10. Patton (1970)

11. On the Waterfront (1954)
12. Oliver! (1968)
13. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
14. Schindler’s List (1993)
15. Unforgiven (1992)
16. The Last Emperor (1987)
17. West Side Story (1961)
18. The Deer Hunter (1978)
19. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
20. Rebecca (1940)

21. The French Connection (1971)
22. No Country for Old Men (2007)
23. Platoon (1986)
24. The Departed (2006)
25. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
26. The Hurt Locker (2009)
27. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
28. Rocky (1976)
29. An American in Paris (1951)
30. Amadeus (1984)

31. Ghandi (1982)
32. Out of Africa (1985)
33. From Here to Eternity (1953)
34. Ordinary People (1980)
35. The Sting (1973)
36. Terms of Endearment (1983)
37. All About Eve (1950)
38. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
39. Dances with Wolves (1990)
40. In the Heat of the Night (1967)

41. Tom Jones (1963)
42. Ben-Hur (1959)
43. Marty (1955)
44. Gone with the Wind (1939)
45. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
46. My Fair Lady (1964)
47. The Lost Weekend (1945)
48. All the King’s Men (1949)
49. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
50. How Green Was My Valley (1941)

51. Chariots of Fire (1981)
52. Rain Man (1988)
53. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
54. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
55. Titanic (1997)
56. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
57. Mutiny of the Bounty (1935)
58. It Happened One Night (1934)
59. Hamlet (1948)
60. The English Patient (1996)

61. Grand Hotel (1932)
62. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
63. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
64. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
65. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
66. The Sound of Music (1965)
67. Braveheart (1995)
68. Wings (1927)
69. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
70. Chicago (2002)

71. Gigi (1958)
72. Gladiator (2000)
73. American Beauty (1999)
74. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
75. Forrest Gump (1994)
76. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
77. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
78. Going My Way (1944)
79. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
80. The Broadway Melody (1929)

81. Cavalcade (1933)
82. Cimarron (1931)
83. Crash (2005)

Haven't seen

The King’s Speech (2010)
The Artist (2011)

David's comment

Realized I hadn't seen the last two, but then I've been so disappointed in who wins the Oscars that it made it really hard to rank the films I just didn't like. I had to find the films I just thought had no business being on the list and start from there, meaning that from about Gone With the Wind down, those films are ones that I just don't care about at all.

Years ago, I decided I'd watch all of the Best Picture nominees, so I had to sit through Cimarron, Cavalcade, and those other early winners that really aren't very good. I still think Lawrence is the best film Hollywood has made, but most of the Top 20 became more of an enjoyability/achievement/theme discussion. Should something as huge as Lawrence go up against Annie Hall? Patton against Waterfront? I split the difference. But what bothers me the most is the way you can tell how much the Weinstein Bros. have influenced the process from the 90's on. My head hurts.

My comment

RE: Harvey Weinstein: Yep. He's pushing “Silver Linings Playbook” this year. We all want an SOB on our side but most of the time Harvey's on the other side. 

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 09:27 AM on Feb 18, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Sunday February 17, 2013

What's the Best Best Picture?

The best of the best pictures

As of now, 61 people have sent me their rankings of the Academy's choices for best picture from 1927 to 2011. That's about 55 more people than I thought we were going to get.

We'll crunch the numbers in more detail soon, but I thought I'd let you know the tally so far.

For the No. 1 slot? The best best picture? Nineteen different movies got votes.

Five movies got one vote each:

  • Gone with the Wind (1939)
  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  • The Sound of Music (1965)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Two movies got two votes:

  • Amadeus (1984)
  • No Country for Old Men (2007)

Four movies got three votes:

  • The Apartment (1960)
  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  • Schindler's List (1993)
  • American Beauty (1999)

Four movies got four votes each:

  • Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans (1928)
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
  • Annie Hall (1977)
  • Titanic (1997)

Two movies are tied for third place with five votes:

  • Casablanca (1943)
  • The Godfather (1972)

In second place, with six votes:

  • The Godfather: Part II

And leading the pack with eight votes:

  • All About Eve (1950)

“Eve” is surprising. So are the four votes both “Titanic” and “Sunrise” received: the former because I thought it wasn't well-liked; the latter because it's a silent film most of us (including me) haven't seen.

No complaints, by the way, if you haven't voted.

A few of these movies also made the worst list. Which we'll get to next.

the best of the best pictures

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Posted at 02:24 PM on Feb 17, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Movie Review: Tabu (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

From the first frame I felt trapped. I watched the safari adventurer standing there in his pith helmet and moustache, slouched, torpid, and looking nothing like a safari adventurer, as Africans paraded past carrying equipiment on poles, with the jungle around him, what’s supposed to be the heart of the dark continent, looking more like the sparse woods near your home, the clumps of trees and wild grass next to Minnehaha Creek in south Minneapolis, for example; and it was all so flimsy, so devoid of life, and filmed in black-and-white with an old timey aspect ratio (1:37: 1), that I merely thought one thought: “Oh no.”

I might have left right then but I was with friends, whom I’d dragged to this. I’d heard good things. Some critics put “Tabu” in their top 10 for 2012. A few made it their No. 1 movie of the year. But from the first frame I feared their idea of what’s art, or storytelling, or truth or beauty, wasn’t mine. Not close.

Tabu poster Miguel GomesFor the rest of the movie I hope my first impression was wrong. I hoped I’d get interested.

It wasn’t. I didn’t.

Mt. Tabu
The opening scenes are from an old movie, a story of lost love and ghosts and crocodiles on the African continent, which Pilar (Teresa Madruga) is watching in modern-day Lisbon. She’s 60s, a good, God-fearing woman living alone in an apartment. Her neighbor is Aurora (Laura Soveral), older and with a hint of faded glamour, but beginning to lose it. We get an interesting scene in a casino where Aurora talks of a dream set in Africa, with a husband with hairy arms pretending to be a monkey, and the background keeps shifting in the telling. Writer-director Miguel Gomes does more interesting things with that background than he does with anyone in the foreground for the rest of the movie.

“Tabu” is split in two parts. The first deals with a bit of Pilar’s life, including a Polish exchange student who abandons her on sight, and a would-be artist who attempts to romance her. But mostly she gets involved in the decline and fall and eventual death of Aurora. On her deathbed, Aurora gives Pilar a name, Ventura (Henrique Espírito Santo), who is the key to the second part of the story, the earlier part of the story, set in the days of Portugese colonialism in the shadow of the fictitious Mt. Tabu in Africa. He tells it to Pilar and Aurora’s live-in maid, Santa (Isabel Muñoz Cardoso), while we watch. It’s a tale of adultery and searing love. It recalls the line of narration from the pith-helmet movie that opened the film: “You can run as long as you can, and as far as you can, but you cannot escape your heart.”

I like some of this narration. I like some of the photography. But there’s no life here. The faces of the characters are as blank and deadpan as the faces of commuters on a city bus. Remember John Ford’s admonition to film the most interesting thing in the world—a human face? Gomes gives lie to this. He shows the opposite. In his hands, a human face is the least interesting thing in the world.

Mt. Brody
So why do other critics like “Tabu” so much? Here’s Richard Brody in The New Yorker:

In Gomes’s ingenious vision, the smoothed-out, tamped-down, serenely cultured solitude of the modern city, with its air of constructive purpose in tiny orbits, rests on a dormant volcano of passionate memories packed with adventurous misdeeds, both political and erotic. Filming in suave, charcoal-matte black-and-white, he frames the poignant mini-melodramas of daily life with a calmly analytical yet tenderly un-ironic eye. If today’s neurotic tensions come off as a corrective to past crimes, even a form of repentance, Gomes’s historical reconstruction of corrupted grandeur is as much a personal liberation as a form of civic therapy.

That’s some heavy lifting. Me, I need more life in my films. I need to be able to breathe. In “Tabu,” from the first frame, I felt entombed in something that wasn’t true or beautiful or worth what little time I have left in this existence.

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Posted at 09:19 AM on Feb 17, 2013 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Thomas Meier Ranks the Best Pictures: from 'Sunrise' to 'Broadway Melody'

Sunrise: A Tale of Two HumansThomas Meier ranks the Oscar winners for best picture

1. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1928)
2. Casablanca (1943)
3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
4. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
5. All About Eve (1950)
6. Gone with the Wind (1939)
7. The Hurt Locker (2009)
8. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
9. Annie Hall (1977)
10. It Happened One Night (1934)

11. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
12. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
13. Schindler’s List (1993)
14. The Deer Hunter (1978)
15. West Side Story (1961)
16. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
17. The Godfather Part II (1974)
18. The Godfather (1972)
19. Rebecca (1940)
20. On the Waterfront (1954)

21. Out of Africa (1985)
22. Unforgiven (1992)
23. Platoon (1986)
24. Amadeus (1984)
25. An American in Paris (1951)
26. All the King’s Men (1949)
27. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
28. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
29. The Artist (2011)
30. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

31. Patton (1970)
32. Ordinary People (1980)
33. From Here to Eternity (1953)
34. The English Patient (1996)
35. Terms of Endearment (1983)
36. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
37. Mutiny of the Bounty (1935)
38. The Departed (2006)
39. The French Connection (1971)
40. No Country for Old Men (2007)

41. American Beauty (1999)
42. Chariots of Fire (1981)
43. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
44. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
45. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
46. The Apartment (1960)
47. Tom Jones (1963)
48. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
49. The Last Emperor (1987)
50. Rocky (1976)

51. The Sting (1973)
52. Gigi (1958)
53. Hamlet (1948)
54. Titanic (1997)
55. Marty (1955)
56. The Sound of Music (1965)
57. Grand Hotel (1932)
58. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
59. Wings (1927)
60. The Lost Weekend (1945)

61. Crash (2005)
62. Ben-Hur (1959)
63. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
64. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
65. My Fair Lady (1964)
66. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
67. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
68. Dances with Wolves (1990)
69. Ghandi (1982)
70. The King’s Speech (2010)

71. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
72. Oliver! (1968)
73. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
74. Gladiator (2000)
75. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
76. Chicago (2002)
77. Forrest Gump (1994)
78. Rain Man (1988)
79. Braveheart (1995)
80. Cimarron (1931)

81. Cavalcade (1933)
82. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
83. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
84. Going My Way (1944)
85. The Broadway Melody (1929)

My comment

Another reader listing all 85 movies. Wow. Takes effort to do the '20s and '30s best pictures. Those don't just turn up every day on Turner Classics.

I like how Thomas' best and worst are like a metaphor for the 1920s: Riding high in 1928, the crash in 1929.

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 08:17 AM on Feb 17, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Saturday February 16, 2013

Movie Review: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Are you always looking for trouble or does it find you?” John McClane, Jr. (Jai Courtney) asks his father at the end of “A Good Day to Die Hard.”

“After all these years?” John McClane (Bruce Willis), bloodied and battered, responds with his customary smirk. “I still ask myself the same question.”

Oo! Oo! Me! Pick me! I know the answer!

Ahem.

In “Die Hard” trouble found him. In “Die Harder” he went looking for it. In “Die Hard with a Vengeance” trouble definitely went looking for him, but only as a diversion, and then he went after trouble because it played him for a sap. In “Live Free or Die Hard,” I think it went looking for him. I forget most of that forgettable movie. And in this one? “A Good Day to Die Hard”? Man, does he go looking for it. To an embarrassing degree.

Poster for "A Good Day to Die Hard" with Bruce WillisBummer. What made John McClane feel truly, heroically American in the original “Die Hard” 25 years ago was how much he didn’t want to be the hero; how, if Hans had opened the door for him, he would’ve walked out of Nakatomi Towers. That’s Rick Blaine in “Casablanca.”  I stick my neck out for nobody. That’s the isolationist streak in the U.S. before World War II. Now John McClane rushes in, guns blazing, where angels fear to tread. The U.S., too.

Guns blazing
Did this even have to be a “Die Hard” movie? What’s specific to the character of John McClane here? I kind of miss Holly, the wife who kept leaving him no matter how many times he saved her ass from terrorists. Her presence, with one foot out the door, helped make him John McClane. Unwanted. Ordinary. Like us.

So what’s he up to these days? He’s at a pistol range, working on his expert marksmanship, when a friend comes to him with information. His estranged, ne’er-do-well son, Jack, has turned up in a Moscow prison. John has to go there. He has to right things. He has to rush in.

Hey, he happens to show up outside the Moscow courthouse at the exact same moment his son and Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), the dissident Russian nuclear scientist and persecuted political prisoner, are being paraded inside for a show trial. Jack is supposedly going to rat on Yuri, claim Yuri paid him to kill a political enemy, but we already know, because we’ve seen the trailer, that Jack is CIA. He’s there to protect Yuri and spirit him out of the country.

Dad, outside, doesn’t know this. What’s the story like from his perspective? He has a fuck-up for a son who’s on trial in Moscow. Then half the courthouse blows up. Then, in the wreckage, he sees his son making a getaway with another guy.

You’re a Dad. What would you do at this point?

You stop the son from making his getaway, of course. You admonish him thus: “Jack! Jack!” You go over generic family squabbles as Russian forces gather. Then when your son pulls a gun on you and drives away (“You shouldn’t be here,” he says), and you see he’s being pursued by, presumably, the cops, you grab a truck and drive like a crazy man through the streets of Moscow to help him. When that truck gets flipped over countless parked cars, and you emerge with a few cuts, you stand in the middle of traffic demanding another vehicle. When a car hits you, and its driver admonishes you for standing in the middle of the street, you get up, coldcock him and take his car. “You think I understand a word you’re saying?” you say to him. Ha ha. To the pursuers, the bad guys, who could be police for all you know, you say, “Knock knock” as you ram them from behind. You say, “Guess who?” as you ram them from the side. When you drive over a woman in her car, crushing her car, and she screams, you say, “Sorry, ma’am.” Ha ha.

Bruce Willis used to have comic timing. What happened? Maybe he knows he’s in scenes that won’t work. Maybe he knows that his character, John McClane, will look like a horse’s ass. Maybe he knows that it’s a bad idea for the hero to spend the first third of the movie coming up to speed. Maybe he knows that all of this is the antithesis of who John McClane is. Or was.

Remember the way he picked shards of glass from his feet in the original “Die Hard”? Remember how you cringed? Nothing like that here. He bulldozes through everything, then emerges a bit winded, a bit cut, maybe limping, but otherwise undamaged. He’s the  terminator as an old, bald man. Bummer.

Big reveals
So there are three big reveals in “A Good Day to Die Hard.” OK, two small reveals before one big reveal.

The first small reveal is that McClane’s ne’er-do-well son is CIA. But we know that if we’ve seen the trailer. Which we have.

The second small reveal is that Irina (Yuliya Snigir), the daughter of Yuri, betrays her father to his enemies, Alik (Radivoje Bukvic) and Defense Minister Chagarin (Sergey Kolesnikov), for money. But that’s so like hot girls, right, man? Total fucking betrayers, man.

The big reveal, after Irina and Alik take Yuri to Chernobyl—which Yuri and Chagarin totally caused, by the way—is that Yuri and his daughter are in cahoots. They wanted to go back to Chernobyl. Not to retrieve a file that has information damaging to Chagarin on it. No, they want the weapons-grade plutonium there. To sell on the black market? To blow up New York? Do we ever find out? Do we need to? It’s enough that they’re bad guys and it’s Chernobyl and it’s John McClane and his son to the rescue wahoo.

But what does this mean in terms of story?

It means that Chagarin was sleeping with his enemy’s daughter and didn’t think she’d betray him.

It means that Yuri whored out his daughter to his political enemy to further his interests.

It means the CIA and John Jr. were played for saps, that the political protesters outside are backing the wrong pony, and that Yuri risked everything, many times over, to pull the strings at the last moment, to reveal himself as puppetmaster rather than puppet, chessmaster rather than pawn. On the way to this triumph, there were 12 ways he could’ve died. Then he dies anyway: thrown from a rooftop by John Jr., and grasping at the air in slow-mo, in homage to Hans, before the blades of his daughter’s helicopter chop him to bits. Splat! Then she gets hers in a kamikaze bloodbath as John and John, Jr., leap by, in slow mo, flipping the bird. Classy.

You’re in the movies now and I’m in your cartoon
“A Good Day to Die Hard” was written by Skip Woods, who wrote “Swordfish” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” It was directed by John Moore, who directed the 2006 remake of “The Omen” and the Mark Wahlberg vehicle “Max Payne.” Talent.

What a shame. The original “Die Hard” was set in a high-rise but it was grounded. This is a cartoon. Yippee-ki-whatever.

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Posted at 10:15 AM on Feb 16, 2013 in category Movie Reviews - 2013
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Trailer of the Day: 'Midway' by Chris Jordan

WARNING: If you're like Patricia and have trouble viewing the death of animals, don't watch past 1:00 ...

I don't need “ocean of grief.” That's unworthy of the images. Otherwise this looks powerful and necessary. There's almost a Terrence Malick vibe. The filmmaker, Chris Jordan, is from Seattle, by the way.

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Posted at 08:01 AM on Feb 16, 2013 in category Trailers
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When Romney was the Most Honest Man in the Race

I'm in the middle of Rick Perlstein's epic tome, “Nixonland,” about how the U.S. went from a Democratic landslide in 1964 to a Republican landslide in 1972. Think race riots, open housing, left-wing idiots and right-wing wish-fulfillment fantasies.

Nixonland by Rick PerlsteinI don't agree with everything here. I think Perlstein's a bit harsh on RFK. He includes some odd asides, such as declaring the song “She's Leaving Home,” from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album's “most beautiful moment.” Overall, the book merely strengthens, rather than challenges, my opinion of what went wrong with politics in this country in my lifetime. But it's giving me ammunition.

Some of the most eye-opening moments, particularly when compared with the recent 2012 election, contrast George Romney, the Republican governor of Michigan and a media darling, with Richard Nixon, a media joke and a stealth campaigner, who would, of course, trounce Romney before the '68 race even began. Romney's fault, according to Perlstein?

He was too damned forthright, too earnest—especially about Vietnam. He grappled with it honestly. Which would make what he said sound absurd, since everyone else was in denial or lying.

Perlstein adds:

[Romney's] forthright honesty was his calling card, his contrast with the wheeler-dealer LBJ and the used-car salesman Nixon, what made him, along with that strong, square chin and silvering hair and popularity with Democrats, look like a contender. But honesty was a dull blade to take into a knife fight with Richard Nixon—who was simply willing to lie.

It doesn't take a genius to realize the lesson young Mitt took from this.

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Posted at 07:24 AM on Feb 16, 2013 in category Politics
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Friday February 15, 2013

Branimir Djurovic Ranks the Best Picture Winners: from 'The Godfather' to 'Cavalcade'

original poster for "The Godfather" (1972)Branimir Djurovic ranks the Oscar winners for best picture

1. The Godfather (1972)
2. Gone with the Wind (1939)
3. The Godfather Part II (1974)
4. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
5. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
6. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
7. Annie Hall (1977)
8. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
9. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
10. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1928)

11. The Deer Hunter (1978)
12. On the Waterfront (1954)
13. No Country for Old Men (2007)
14. Casablanca (1943)
15. Ben-Hur (1959)
16. The Departed (2006)
17. American Beauty (1999)
18. Unforgiven (1992)
19. Wings (1927)
20. Schindler’s List (1993)

21. Gladiator (2000)
22. It Happened One Night (1934)
23. Amadeus (1984)
24. The Apartment (1960)
25. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
26. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
27. Rocky (1976)
28. From Here to Eternity (1953)
29. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
30. Terms of Endearment (1983)

31. Platoon (1986)
32. Marty (1955)
33. The Last Emperor (1987)
34. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
35. Chicago (2002)
36. The Sting (1973)
37. The French Connection (1971)
38. The English Patient (1996)
39. My Fair Lady (1964)
40. Tom Jones (1963)

41. All About Eve (1950)
42. The Hurt Locker (2009)
43. Forrest Gump (1994)
44. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
45. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
46. An American in Paris (1951)
47. The Sound of Music (1965)
48. Ordinary People (1980)
49. Hamlet (1948)
50. Rain Man (1988)

51. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
52. Mutiny of the Bounty (1935)
53. Grand Hotel (1932)
54. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
55. Titanic (1997)
56. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
57. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
58. Gigi (1958)
59. Oliver! (1968)
60. Rebecca (1940)

61. The Artist (2011)
62. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
63. Dances with Wolves (1990)
64. West Side Story (1961)
65. Out of Africa (1985)
66. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
67. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
68. The King’s Speech (2010)
69. Crash (2005)
70. Chariots of Fire (1981)

71. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
72. All the King’s Men (1949)
73. Braveheart (1995)
74. Cimarron (1931)
75. The Broadway Melody (1929)
76. Cavalcade (1933)

Haven’t Seen

Ghandi (1982)
Patton (1970)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
Going My Way (1944)
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

My comment

I can't believe so many people have seen “Cimarron”! Did anyone see the 1960 remake with Glenn Ford? It actually has a higher IMDb rating (6.3) than the 1931 best-picture winner (6.0).

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

Tags: ,
Posted at 07:45 PM on Feb 15, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Jorge Rodrigues Ranks the Best Picture Winners: from 'All About Eve' to 'Driving Miss Daisy'

All About Eve posterJorge Rodrigues ranks the Oscar winners for best picture

1. All About Eve (1950)
2. The Apartment (1960)
3. Annie Hall (1977)
4. The Godfather Part II (1974)
5. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
6. Schindler’s List (1993)
7. It Happened One Night (1934)
8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
9. Rebecca (1940)
10. Casablanca (1943)

11. Gone with the Wind (1939)
12. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1928)
13. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
14. American Beauty (1999)
15. From Here to Eternity (1953)
16. All the King’s Men (1949)
17. The French Connection (1971)
18. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
19. The Godfather (1972)
20. On the Waterfront (1954)

21. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
22. Patton (1970)
23. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
24. No Country for Old Men (2007)
25. The Deer Hunter (1978)
26. The Artist (2011)
27. West Side Story (1961)
28. Wings (1927)
29. The Departed (2006)
30. Gladiator (2000)

31. Ghandi (1982)
32. Amadeus (1984)
33. Unforgiven (1992)
34. Terms of Endearment (1983)
35. Ordinary People (1980)
36. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
37. The Last Emperor (1987)
38. The King’s Speech (2010)
39. Chicago (2002)
40. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

41. The English Patient (1996)
42. The Lost Weekend (1945)
43. Braveheart (1995)
44. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
45. The Hurt Locker (2009)
46. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
47. Crash (2005)
48. The Sound of Music (1965)
49. An American in Paris (1951)
50. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

51. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
52. Out of Africa (1985)
53. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
54. Hamlet (1948)
55. Platoon (1986)
56. Mutiny of the Bounty (1935)
57. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
58. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
59. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
60. A Man for All Seasons (1966)

61. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
62. Titanic (1997)
63. Rocky (1976)
64. The Sting (1973)
65. Ben-Hur (1959)
66. Chariots of Fire (1981)
67. Oliver! (1968)
68. Marty (1955)
69. Going My Way (1944)
70. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

71. Cimarron (1931)
72. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
73. Cavalcade (1933)
74. The Broadway Melody (1929)
75. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
76. Grand Hotel (1932)
77. Dances with Wolves (1990)
78. Gigi (1958)
79. Tom Jones (1963)
80. Rain Man (1988)

81. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
82. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
83. My Fair Lady (1964)
84. Forrest Gump (1994)
85. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

My comment

I've got nothing but love for “All About Eve.” When I first saw it, maybe 20 years ago, I was dazzled by its wit and wondered where ours had gone.

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 02:19 PM on Feb 15, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Marco Rubio's Stephan Seely Moment

By now Marco Rubio's Poland Springs water-bottle moment just three days ago seems old news: first laughed at, then mocked, then satirized, and now dismissed and forgotten almost as if it were Michael Dukakis in a tank or James Stockdale at the '92 debates. The moment the epitaph was written. (Warning: “You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore” was such a moment, too.)

The best thing I read on the ordeal was posted by Ian Crouch on The New Yorker site. It's pretty funny:

By the second minute of Marco Rubio’s official Republican response to the President’s State of the Union address last night, it was clear that the Senator’s body was betraying him. His lips caught each other in the way they do at moments of stress, when we are suddenly confronted, after long lapses of unthought, with the actual mechanics of speech. Under the hot lights, Rubio’s mouth went dry. A few minutes later, sweat trickled down his right temple, and he moved his hand instinctively to wipe it away. The dry mouth persisted, and, at times, his eyes flashed with a kind of pleading and mounting desperation: the speech was less than halfway over, with words and words to go. His hands, already large in the frame when he kept them low in front of him, flashed a few times to his lips. And then back to his temple.

By the eighth minute, he seemed to have adjusted, and it looked as if he might push through to the end. But then, three minutes later, he made a gamble and reached for a water bottle offscreen: he lurched down to his left and fumbled a bit, making a terrifyingly intimate moment of eye contact with the audience before taking a quick sip from an unfortunately tiny bottle and then ducking to put it back. He quickly returned to his speech, and spun out the final few minutes. But, by then, those eyes had turned faintly sad; while continuing to perform the words, Rubio looked as though he knew he’d made a mistake, and that all anyone would remember in the morning would be the image of him stooped to the edge of the frame, sheepishly grasping for the smallest plastic bottle of water in the District of Columbia.

Crouch focused less on the water bottle and more on the reason for the water bottle: the nervous, dry mouth. In this way, too, Rubio reminded me less of a potential presidential candidate (how he's been touted for years) and more of Stephan Seely.

Name ring a bell? Did you ever watch SCTV? Stephan, played by a bewigged John Candy, was the co-host, along with the bouncy, zippy Alexis (Catherine O'Hara), of “Preteen World,” which was a takeoff on “Zoom,” or “Wonderama.” And while Alexis was glib, Stephan, bless his heart, always put in a good effort but he could never get the words out. Too nervous. Mouth too dry. Half his time was spent hard-swallowing mid-word. I think he made me laugh harder than any John Candy character. His discomfort was such a joy to me. Probably because I identified. Even at that age, my body was constantly betraying me.

I couldn't find a good clip online of Stephan but this one isn't bad. He's only in the first minute or so, and his dry-mouthed swallows are subtle, but you get the idea:

Yes, we're a shallow culture to knock out a potential presidential candidate because of one dry-mouthed moment; but Rubio wouldn't be where he is if we weren't already shallow. He's there because his politics fit the base (rabid), his ethnicity fits the demographics (growing), and because of the way he looks (handsome). Plus the focus on the water bottle probably did him a service, rather than a disservice, since his speech was the usual GOP BS.

Hell, I might actually have a bit of sympathy for Rubio now. He reminded me, for one brief, vulnerable moment, of Stephan Seely, patron saint of the betraying body. In that moment, and only that moment, he seemed like the type of guy I'd want to have a beer with. Or at least buy one for.

Marco Rubio's water bottle moment may have been a Stephan Seely moment (SCTV)

Stephan Seely (right), patron saint of the betraying body.

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Posted at 09:07 AM on Feb 15, 2013 in category TV
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Steve Schweighofer Ranks Oscar's Best Picture Winners: from 'Lawrence of Arabia' to 'The Greastest Show on Earth'

Poster for "Lawrence of Arabia"Steve Schweighofer ranks the Oscar winners for best picture

1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
3. Annie Hall (1977)
4. The Godfather (1972)
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1928)
6. From Here to Eternity (1953)
7. All About Eve (1950)
8. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
9. On the Waterfront (1954)
10. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

11. The Hurt Locker (2009)
12. The Godfather Part II (1974)
13. Schindler’s List (1993)
14. The Last Emperor (1987)
15. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
16. The Deer Hunter (1978)
17. The English Patient (1996)
18. It Happened One Night (1934)
19. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
20. No Country for Old Men (2007)

21. Unforgiven (1992)
22. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
23. Dances with Wolves (1990)
24. American Beauty (1999)
25. The Departed (2006)
26. West Side Story (1961)
27. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
28. The Apartment (1960)
29. Ordinary People (1980)
30. Tom Jones (1963)

31. Mutiny of the Bounty (1935)
32. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
33. The Sting (1973)
34. The French Connection (1971)
35. Gladiator (2000)
36. Amadeus (1984)
37. Patton (1970)
38. Rebecca (1940)
39. Out of Africa (1985)
40. Terms of Endearment (1983)

41. Platoon (1986)
42. Ben-Hur (1959)
43. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
44. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
45. Hamlet (1948)
46. Chariots of Fire (1981)
47. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
48. Wings (1927)
49. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
50. Casablanca (1943)

51. My Fair Lady (1964)
52. The King’s Speech (2010)
53. Titanic (1997)
54. Gigi (1958)
55. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
56. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
57. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
58. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
59. Ghandi (1982)
60. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

61. The Sound of Music (1965)
62. An American in Paris (1951)
63. Chicago (2002)
64. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
65. Gone with the Wind (1939)
66. All the King’s Men (1949)
67. The Artist (2011)
68. Braveheart (1995)69. The Lost Weekend (1945)
70. Oliver! (1968)

71. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
72. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
73. Marty (1955)
74. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
75. Rain Man (1988)
76. Rocky (1976)
77. Forrest Gump (1994)
78. Cavalcade (1933)
79. Grand Hotel (1932)
80. Going My Way (1944)

81. Cimarron (1931)
82. The Broadway Melody (1929)
83. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
84. Crash (2005)
85. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

Steve's comment

that was fun

My comment

All of them? Impressive. Glad you enjoyed it. A lot of war at the top.

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 06:31 AM on Feb 15, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Thursday February 14, 2013

Joe D. Ranks Oscar's Best Picture Winners: from 'Cuckoo's Nest' to 'Dances with Wolves'

Joe D. (not that Joe D.) ranks the Oscar winners for best Poster for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975)picture

1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
2. The Deer Hunter (1978)
3. On the Waterfront (1954)
4. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
5. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
6. No Country for Old Men (2007)
7. The Sound of Music (1965)
8. Terms of Endearment (1983)
9. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
10. Gone with the Wind (1939)
11. The Godfather (1972)
12. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
13. Casablanca (1943)
14. Platoon (1986)
15. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
16. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
17. The Apartment (1960)
18. Annie Hall (1977)
19. From Here to Eternity (1953)
20. All About Eve (1950)
21. The French Connection (1971)
22. The Godfather Part II (1974)
23. My Fair Lady (1964)
24. It Happened One Night (1934)
25. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
26. Rain Man (1988)
27. The Sting (1973)
28. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
29. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
30. An American in Paris (1951)
31. The King’s Speech (2010)
32. West Side Story (1961)
33. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
34. Mutiny of the Bounty (1935)
35. Oliver! (1968)
36. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
37. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
38. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
39. Patton (1970)
40. Ben-Hur (1959)
41. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
42. Forrest Gump (1994)
43. Chariots of Fire (1981)
44. Out of Africa (1985)
45. Titanic (1997)
46. Gladiator (2000)
47. Dances with Wolves (1990)

My comment

“Cuckoo's Nest” is getting a lot of love. Makes me want to watch it again. “You wanna watch baseball? The World Series? Put up that hand, Chief!”

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 01:58 PM on Feb 14, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Dan Heilman Ranks Oscar's Best Picture Winners: from 'Cuckoo's Nest' to 'Crash'

Dan Heilman ranks the Oscar winners for best Poster for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975)picture

1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
2. The Godfather Part II (1974)
3. No Country for Old Men (2007)
4. Schindler’s List (1993)
5. The Deer Hunter (1978)
6. The Godfather (1972)
7. Annie Hall (1977)
8. Unforgiven (1992)
9. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
10. Rain Man (1988)

11. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
12. The French Connection (1971)
13. The Hurt Locker (2009)
14. Terms of Endearment (1983)
15. Tom Jones (1963)
16. The Artist (2011)
17. Rocky (1976)
18. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
19. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
20. Platoon (1986)

21. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
22. Ordinary People (1980)
23. The King’s Speech (2010)
24. Braveheart (1995)
25. Patton (1970)
26. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
27. My Fair Lady (1964)
28. The Last Emperor (1987)
29. The Sting (1973)
30. Chicago (2002)

31. Ghandi (1982)
32. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
33. Amadeus (1984)
34. The Departed (2006)
35. American Beauty (1999)
36. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
37. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
38. Chariots of Fire (1981)
39. Gladiator (2000)
40. The Sound of Music (1965)

41. Out of Africa (1985)
42. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
43. Dances with Wolves (1990)
44. Oliver! (1968)
45. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
46. Titanic (1997)
47. Forrest Gump (1994)
48. The English Patient (1996)
49. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
50. Crash (2005)

Dan's comment

Listed only those from my lifetime.

My comment

Good plan. And 50 is quite enough. Both ways.

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 08:02 AM on Feb 14, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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The Valentine's Day Posts

Rhett and Scarlett pucker up in "Gone with the Wind"

Sorry for the denture smell.

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Posted at 07:07 AM on Feb 14, 2013 in category General
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Dying Hard: A History of the 'Die Hard' Franchise

This article was originally published, in slightly different form, on MSNBC.com, in 2006—when the last “Die Hard” sequel was released.

 


 

Its star was a TV actor unable to parlay his small-screen moment (“Moonlighting”) into big-screen success. Its villain was unknown this side of the Atlantic. One of its writers had done mostly TV (“Lucan,” “Knight Rider”), while the other had no credits to his name. Its source material was a novel, a sequel actually, about an aging detective named Joe Leland visiting his daughter and grandchildren in L.A. It was called “Nothing Lasts Forever” but the filmmakers decided to change the title to something punchier and punnier.

They called it “Die Hard.”

Released in July 1988, it made more than $80 million and spawned an entire sub-genre of movies: “Die Hard” on a boat (“Under Siege”), “Die Hard” on a plane (“Passenger 57”), “Die Hard” on the president’s plane (“Air Force One”). Basically: a group of bad guys take over a small enclosed space, and one good guy, who’s there more or less by accident, tries to stop them.

So what is it about that first “Die Hard” anyway? Why did it work? Why has it become legendary?

Die Hard with a smirk: Bruce Willis as John McClane

Shoeless John
For starters, the grandfather-detective named Joe Leland morphed into a father-cop named John McClane. Everyone can get behind a cop.

He’s about as “regular guy” as you can get. He rides in the front of the limo. He checks out centerfolds while running for his life. He likes Roy Rogers. Hell, he’s the kind of guy who would like “Die Hard.” One wonders if that isn’t a key to success: Would your lead character like the movie he’s in?

They gave him vulnerabilities. He’s tough, but afraid to fly. He smokes, but carries around a giant teddy bear for his kids. Best of all: They take away his shoes. That’s smart. When the shooting starts, he’s still busy in the plush 30th-floor bathroom making “fists with his toes,” as his airplane seat-mate suggested he do to overcome anxiety, and he doesn’t get them back for the rest of the film. It’s a small thing that adds up to a large thing. I remember cringing in the theater when he has to pluck glass shards from the bottom of his bloody feet.

Then they take this one regular guy (without shoes) and stick him between two groups. “Two groups?” you ask. Yes, two groups.

The first group is, of course, a super-efficient international team of terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), who was recently voted the 46th greatest villain of all time by the American Film Institute.

These guys are creepy, less because of the glowering silent types like Alexander Gudonov’s Karl and more because of the ones who whistle while they work, such as Clarence Gilyard, Jr.’s Theo, who helped spawn a generation of onscreen black computer hackers. “Oh my god, the quarterback is toast!” he shouts enthusiastically as the cops’ RV is decimated by a rocket launcher. You seriously want to deck the dude.

The smartest guy in the room is always Hans. “You want money?” Takagi asks incredulously. “What kind of terrorists are you?” “Who said we were terrorists?” Hans responds. When McClane shows up with his HO HO HO message, Hans knows he’s no security guard. Captured, he fakes an American accent and manners. He knows the FBI playbook. He has a classical (read: European) education and fancy (read: European) suits and waxes eloquent on a bankrupt American culture. All of which makes him a perfect foil for McClane and his pop cultural references. “Ehh! Sorry Hans, wrong guess. Would you like to go for Double Jeopardy where the scores can really change?” It’s the wise-ass in the back row making fun of the uptight teacher. Yippee-ki-yay, indeed.

Bruce Willis in "Die Hard" (1988)

The Greatest American Heroes
One can argue that this wise-ass is actually an amalgamation of three of the most quintessential heroes in American cinema. Numbers 4, 5, and 7 on the AFI list of 50 greatest heroes, to be exact.

No. 5 is Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) in “High Noon.” Most of our cinematic heroes are lone gunmen, and Kane is the epitome. He’s the guy trapped between two groups: Frank Miller and his gang, who want revenge on Kane, and the townspeople too cowardly to help. Which is why he’s out there by himself.

Why is John McClane out there by himself? Because he’s trapped between the terrorists who want to kill him, and the townspeople too stupid to help.

Seriously, how many incompetent people are involved in L.A. policework? When McClane finally gets through on an emergency reserve channel, the women on the other end chastise him for using the channel in the first place. Even after they hear gunfire they send only one black-and-white to investigate. Once the cops show up, they blame McClane. Once the FBI shows up they play right into the villains’ hands.

They’re supermacho. They rush in where McClane fears to tread. “An A-7 scenario,” say the FBI Johnsons, misreading the situation. “Kick ass,” says Deputy Police Chief Dwayne Robinson before disaster strikes. “Sprechen sie talk?” says Ellis before getting shot in the head. All of these guys think they’re heroes. They think they can save the situation.

The beauty of John McClane is that he doesn’t. In this sense he’s reminiscent of No. 4 on the AFI list: Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in “Casablanca.” There’s a great isolationist streak in the American psyche and Rick epitomizes it. “I stick my neck out for nobody,” Rick says famously. Then the world goes to hell and he has to get involved.

Ditto McClane. If Hans just opens the front door, he’ll leave. The L.A. cops tell him to lie low and he’s more than willing. But things keep going wrong. The bad guys are superefficient and everyone else is superincompetent, and there he is, stuck in the middle with a machine gun. Plus Holly, his wife, is down there. Even if she won’t take his name.

So how does this one regular guy without shoes beat 12 superefficient terrorists when he doesn’t want to be there and none of the townspeople are smart enough to help him? He wins the way Rocky Balboa (AFI’s No. 7) wins. He doesn’t go down. He endures. Subsequent “‘Die Hard’ in a...” movies starred martial artists like Steven Segal and Wesley Snipes, people with specialized knowledge, but McClane knows nothing special.

All of which goes to the heart of who American men believe themselves to be. We’re not smart. We’re not talented. We can’t keep our wives in check. We don’t even want to be here. But when the shit hits the fan, yeah, what the hell. Since nobody else is doing anything.

Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson in "Die Hard with a Vengeance"

Harder with a Vengenace
Unfortunately, the sequels began to take away the things that made “Die Hard” work.

First, they aren’t even “‘Die Hard’ in a...” movies since John McClane is never trapped in a small enclosed space. In the second film he’s got the run of Dulles Airport and its D.C. environs. In the third film he’s racing all over New York and Canada. In the fourth he's all up and down the eastern seaboard. In the fifth, he goes abroad. You lose focus and intimacy this way: the sense that hero and villain are right next to each other, breathing down each other’s necks.

I guess they had to give back his shoes (it would’ve looked silly if he kept losing them), but did they have to give back Rick Blaine? In “Die Hard 2,” McClane isn’t the reluctant hero; he’s the guy who rushes in. Look, those guys pushed that suitcase under the table. I guess I’ll follow them.

He’s still surrounded by superincompetents (Dennis Franz, et al.), but for the requisite face-to-face with the villains the film relies on fantastic coincidences (McClane bumping into Col. Stuart at the airport) and inconceivable betrayals (Major Grant). Plus every time he’s ready to step down, Barnes (Art Evans) tells McClane — rather than, say, anyone in authority — the specialized information to get near the bad guys.

In the third film, “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” McClane also loses the Will Kane connection. He’s no longer the lone gunman trapped between two groups. For the first time we see him with his group, New York cops, and they’re a pretty smart, cynical bunch. It seems more realistic, less cartoonish, but it leaves him with just one cinematic role model: Rocky. Maybe that’s why the film feels punchdrunk.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) in "Live Free or Die Hard"

A Good Day to Live Free
In the most recent versions, McClane isn’t even a regular guy anymore. He’s the special guy. He’s the guy who keeps surviving these terrorist attacks . “Have you done stuff like that before?” Justin Long asks him in “Live Free or Die Hard.” “I guess you’ve done this before,” a Russian says to him in “A Good Day to Die Hard,” to which his son, John, Jr., replies, “Don’t encourage him.”

But we do. Why a fifth installment? Because for all of the memorable movies Willis has made this century--“Unbreakable,” “Grindhouse,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Looper”--none has grossed as well as the forgettable fourth installment of “Die Hard.” The series is living up to its title—it’s not going away—but it’s become a bit like its original villain.

“You want money?” we ask, astounded. Yes. Yes, it does.

Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted at 06:02 AM on Feb 14, 2013 in category Movies
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Wednesday February 13, 2013

Dback Ranks Oscar's Best Picture Winners: from 'Sunrise' (Best) to 'Gandhi' (Worst)

Sunrise: A Tale of Two HumansDback ranks the Oscar winners for best picture

1. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1928)
2. Gone with the Wind (1939)
3. All About Eve (1950)
4. Casablanca (1943)
5. West Side Story (1961)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
7. Amadeus (1984)
8. Chicago (2002)
9. The Godfather (1972)
10. The Sound of Music (1965)

11. Gigi (1958)
12. The King’s Speech (2010)
13. Annie Hall (1977)
14. Schindler’s List (1993)
15. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
16. Rebecca (1940)
17. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
18. Ordinary People (1980)
19. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
20. How Green Was My Valley (1941)

21. The Hurt Locker (2009)
22. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
23. The Departed (2006)
24. Grand Hotel (1932)
25. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
26. American Beauty (1999)
27. No Country for Old Men (2007)
28. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
29. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
30. The Artist (2011)

31. Platoon (1986)
32. Oliver! (1968)
33. From Here to Eternity (1953)
34. Gladiator (2000)
35. The English Patient (1996)
36. Forrest Gump (1994)
37. Unforgiven (1992)
38. Terms of Endearment (1983)
39. The Deer Hunter (1978)
40. The Godfather Part II (1974)

41. The French Connection (1971)
42. Patton (1970)
43. It Happened One Night (1934)
44. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
45. My Fair Lady (1964)
46. Tom Jones (1963)
47. The Apartment (1960)
48. Ben-Hur (1959)
49. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
50. An American in Paris (1951)

51. All the King’s Men (1949)
52. Braveheart (1995)
53. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
54. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
55. The Sting (1973)
56. Dances with Wolves (1990)
57. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
58. Rain Man (1988)
59. Titanic (1997)
60. Going My Way (1944)

61. The Last Emperor (1987)
62. Chariots of Fire (1981)
63. Out of Africa (1985)
64. Crash (2005)
65. Ghandi (1982)

Dback's comment

When in doubt, consult Danny Peary's “Alternate Oscars” to get reminders of the many, many gems the Oscars didn't give Best Picture to, or oftentimes didn't even nominate.

My comment

Apparently someone doesn't like the '80s. Wow. Four of the five worst? And “Gandhi” the worst of the worst? Well, it was a bad decade for movies. My main memory of seeing “Ghandi”: everyone walking out the theater with peaceful, beatific expressions on their faces ... until we got into our cars and became our usual asshole selves.

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

No tagsPosted at 04:40 PM on Feb 13, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Chris Nelson Ranks Oscar's Best Picture Winners: from 'Annie Hall' (Best) to 'Crash' (Worst)

poster for "Annie Hall"Chris Nelson ranks the Oscar winners for best picture

1. Annie Hall (1977)
2. Gone with the Wind (1939)
3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
4. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
5. Schindler’s List (1993)
6. Terms of Endearment (1983)
7. Rebecca (1940)
8. All About Eve (1950)
9. Ordinary People (1980)
10. Casablanca (1943)

11. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
12. Amadeus (1984)
13. Platoon (1986)
14. Titanic (1997)
15. Gladiator (2000)
16. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
17. The Deer Hunter (1978)
18. The Godfather Part II (1974)
19. Unforgiven (1992)
20. The Sting (1973)

21. Grand Hotel (1932)
22. No Country for Old Men (2007)
23. The Hurt Locker (2009)
24. On the Waterfront (1954)
25. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
26. The Sound of Music (1965)
27. The Apartment (1960)
28. Rain Man (1988)
29. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
30. The Last Emperor (1987)

31. Out of Africa (1985)
32. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
33. The King’s Speech (2010)
34. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
35. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
36. The Artist (2011)
37. Dances with Wolves (1990)
38. My Fair Lady (1964)
39. Rocky (1976)
40. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

41. The French Connection (1971)
42. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
43. An American in Paris (1951)
44. The Godfather (1972)
45. The Departed (2006)
46. American Beauty (1999)
47. Forrest Gump (1994)
48. Patton (1970)
49. Chicago (2002)
50. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

51. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
52. Ghandi (1982)
53. Gigi (1958)
54. The English Patient (1996)
55. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
56. Tom Jones (1963)
57. West Side Story (1961)
58. Ben-Hur (1959)
59. Chariots of Fire (1981)
60. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

61. The Lost Weekend (1945)
62. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
63. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
64. From Here to Eternity (1953)
65. Mutiny of the Bounty (1935)
66. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
67. All the King’s Men (1949)
68. Hamlet (1948)
69. Marty (1955)
70. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

71. Going My Way (1944)
72. Oliver! (1968)
73. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
74. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
75. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
76. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
77. It Happened One Night (1934)
78. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
79. Wings (1927)
80. Braveheart (1995)

81. Crash (2005)

Haven’t Seen

Cimarron (1931)
Cavalcade (1933)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1928)
The Broadway Melody (1929)

Chris' comment

“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” DON'T JUDGE ME.

My comment

Way to rock the list and “Annie Hall,” which I love.

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 12:57 PM on Feb 13, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Endora Ranks the Best Pictures: from 'The Apartment' to 'A Beautiful Mind'

1960 poster for Billy Wilder's "The Apartment"Endora Ranks the Oscar winners for best picture

1. The Apartment (1960)
2. Gone with the Wind (1939)
3. Annie Hall (1977)
4. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
5. Terms of Endearment (1983)
6. Amadeus (1984)
7. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
8. Rebecca (1940)
9. All About Eve (1950)
10. Titanic (1997)

11. Casablanca (1943)
12. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
13. The English Patient (1996)
14. The Godfather Part II (1974)
15. The Godfather (1972)
16. American Beauty (1999)
17. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
18. The Last Emperor (1987)
19. West Side Story (1961)
20. The Departed (2006)

21. The Lost Weekend (1945)
22. My Fair Lady (1964)
23. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
24. An American in Paris (1951)
25. From Here to Eternity (1953)
26. Hamlet (1948)
27. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
28. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
29. It Happened One Night (1934)
30. The Sting (1973)

31. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
32. Tom Jones (1963)
33. Marty (1955)
34. Oliver! (1968)
35. Dances with Wolves (1990)
36. On the Waterfront (1954)
37. Schindler’s List (1993)
38. Unforgiven (1992)
39. Ben-Hur (1959)
40. A Man for All Seasons (1966)

41. Platoon (1986)
42. The Sound of Music (1965)
43. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
44. Ghandi (1982)
45. The French Connection (1971)
46. Out of Africa (1985)
47. Patton (1970)
48. The Deer Hunter (1978)
49. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
50. The Hurt Locker (2009)

51. Chariots of Fire (1981)
52. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
53. Gigi (1958)
54. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
55. No Country for Old Men (2007)
56. Mutiny of the Bounty (1935)
57. The Artist (2011)
58. Ordinary People (1980)
59. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
60. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

61. Braveheart (1995)
62. Forrest Gump (1994)
63. Rocky (1976)
64. Gladiator (2000)
65. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
66. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
67. Grand Hotel (1932)
68. Chicago (2002)
69. The King’s Speech (2010)
70. The Broadway Melody (1929)
71. Rain Man (1988)
72. Crash (2005)
73. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Endora's comment

Thanks for this, Erik.

My comment

Wow, 73 of the 85 best picture winners. That's impressive. I've only seen 70. And that's being generous. (I need to see about 10 of those again to see how they stand up.)
BTW, “Titanic,” your No. 10, is more popular than I thought. As is “Gone with the Wind” (your No. 2). Not to mention “Annie Hall.” But “Annie”'s always been popular with me. Not to mention Annie.

OK, who's next?

Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 09:12 AM on Feb 13, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Reed Ranks the Best Pictures: from 'The Godfather' to 'Crash'

The original Godfather posterReed Ranks the Oscar Winners for Best Picture

1. The Godfather (1972)
2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
3. The Godfather Part II (1974)
4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
5. Annie Hall (1977)
6. Casablanca (1943)
7. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
8. Amadeus (1984)
9. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
10. Rebecca (1940)

11. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
12. On the Waterfront (1954)
13. Rain Man (1988)
14. Schindler’s List (1993)
15. Platoon (1986)
16. All About Eve (1950)
17. Rocky (1976)
18. Patton (1970)
19. The Last Emperor (1987)
20. The Hurt Locker (2009)

21. No Country for Old Men (2007)
22. Braveheart (1995)
23. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
24. Ghandi (1982)
25. The Apartment (1960)
26. Terms of Endearment (1983)
27. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
28. The Artist (2011)
29. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
30. The Deer Hunter (1978)

31. Gone with the Wind (1939)
32. Ordinary People (1980)
33. The Departed (2006)
34. The Sting (1973)
35. The English Patient (1996)
36. The French Connection (1971)
37. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
38. American Beauty (1999)
39. Unforgiven (1992)
40. Forrest Gump (1994)

41. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
42. From Here to Eternity (1953)
43. Marty (1955)
44. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
45. Gladiator (2000)
46. Crash (2005)

Reed's comment

I kept trying to find “Goodfellas,” “Chinatown,” and “The Pianist” in here, but of course they didn't win. “Chinatown,” well, it was a strong year and the movie that won is my #3, so I can't really complain. Still miffed about Art Carney, though. All in all, a better group of films than I had expected. Note - films seen too long ago to remember (“Kramer vs Kramer,” “Sound of Music,” “Ben-Hur,” “Chariots of Fire”) relegated to “unseen.”

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Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 07:44 AM on Feb 13, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Uncle Vinny Ranks the Best Pictures: From 'The Godfather Part II' (Best) to 'Shakespeare in Love' (Worst)

The Godfather Part II Uncle Vinny Ranks the Oscar Winners for Best Picture

1. The Godfather Part II (1974)
2. The Godfather (1972)
3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
4. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
5. The Deer Hunter (1978)
6. Casablanca (1943)
7. On the Waterfront (1954)
8. Platoon (1986)
9. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
10. Unforgiven (1992)

11. Rebecca (1940)
12. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
13. The Artist (2011)
14. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
15. The Sting (1973)
16. Ghandi (1982)
17. Hamlet (1948)
18. An American in Paris (1951)
19. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
20. All About Eve (1950)

21. No Country for Old Men (2007)
22. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
23. Annie Hall (1977)
24. Grand Hotel (1932)
25. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
26. Amadeus (1984)
27. The Hurt Locker (2009)
28. The French Connection (1971)
29. Rain Man (1988)
30. Schindler’s List (1993)

31. Rocky (1976)
32. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
33. Chariots of Fire (1981)
34. Terms of Endearment (1983)
35. The Lost Weekend (1945)
36. The Apartment (1960)
37. The Sound of Music (1965)
38. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
39. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
40. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

41. Forrest Gump (1994)
42. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
43. My Fair Lady (1964)
44. The English Patient (1996)
45. Gladiator (2000)
46. Braveheart (1995)
47. Dances with Wolves (1990)
48. Out of Africa (1985)
49. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
50. American Beauty (1999)

51. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Uncle Vinny's comment

I barely remember “Out of Africa.” And, funnily enough...“The Lost Weekend” is a blur.

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Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 06:43 AM on Feb 13, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Tuesday February 12, 2013

Tim Ranks the Best Pictures: From 'American Beauty' (Best) to 'Crash' (Worst)

poster for "American Beauty" (1999)Tim's Ranking of the Best Picture Oscar Winners

1. American Beauty (1999)
2. Casablanca (1943)
3. Schindler’s List (1993)
4. Annie Hall (1977)
5. The Hurt Locker (2009)
6. Out of Africa (1985)
7. Rain Man (1988)
8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
9. Gone with the Wind (1939)
10. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

11. Unforgiven (1992)
12. The Sting (1973)
13. All About Eve (1950)
14. Ben-Hur (1959)
15. Chariots of Fire (1981)
16. The Sound of Music (1965)
17. Ordinary People (1980)
18. Dances with Wolves (1990)
19. Titanic (1997)
20. No Country for Old Men (2007)

21. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
22. Platoon (1986)
23. The Godfather (1972)
24. The Artist (2011)
25. The Last Emperor (1987)
26. Forrest Gump (1994)
27. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
28. The English Patient (1996)
29. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
30. Braveheart (1995)

31. Marty (1955)
32. The Apartment (1960)
33. Crash (2005)

Tim's comment

Holy moly.

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Rank Oscar's best pictures from 1927 to today.

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Posted at 06:48 PM on Feb 12, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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My State of the Union

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

-- Paul Simon, “American Tune,” 1973

I was dicking around YouTube last night and came across this clip of Paul Simon singing “American Tune” on the old “Dick Cavett Show” in September 1974--a month after Richard Nixon resigned, which was a few months after my parents separated. It's a melancholy song but I was feeling particularly melancholy last night so it really sunk in. Particularly that last stanza. Since the State of the Union is tonight, I thought I'd share.

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Posted at 04:17 PM on Feb 12, 2013 in category Music
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Now YOU Can Rank Oscar's Best Picture Winners

Oscar's best picture winners: 1927 to today

It began more than a year ago when I ranked the 2011 best picture nominees by IMDb score.

Then I wrote a post in which I ranked all of Oscar's best picture winners, from 1927 to 2011, by IMDb rating.

Then I wondered: How would I rank them all? So I did.

Now I'm wondering how you would rank them.

I went to wallopin' webmaster Tim with a question: Can we create a simple way for readers to rank the 85 best picture winners? We need to make sure all of the movies are on the screen at the same time. (That's tough doing.) We need a way to eliminate all of the unseen movies. (Even I haven't seen them all.) Then there should be a way for readers to share their list either here or abroad. (Because that's the fun part.)

Tim went to work and ... Here it is! An interactive page in which YOU rank every Oscar best-picture winner from 1927 to today.

Feel free to play around with it. Fee free to send me your list with any comments or suggestions.

What you may find? If you're a movie lover? There will be 10-20 movies that you know will be at the top of your list, and 5-10 movies that you know will be at the bottom of your list; then there will be a whole lot of meh in the middle. The Academy is good at this: declaring meh the best.

What I've realized looking at this list again? The most recent years have been a drag. There's not much since the mid-1990s that make my top 20. I think just “No Country for Old Men.” Most of the others elicit a shrug. Maybe this will change with time.

But enough from me. Have at. Enjoy. Argue.

Oscar's best picture winners from 1927 to today

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Posted at 07:29 AM on Feb 12, 2013 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Monday February 11, 2013

Quote of the Day

“You remember the war in Afghanistan, right? The one the U.S. military has fought since 2001 in a country far from our Homeland­-obsessed shores? The grinding, mystifying conflict in which more than 2,000 American soldiers have died? Anybody?”

--former Stars and Stripes reporter Martin Kuz in his review of Jake Tapper's book “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor.”

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Posted at 08:50 AM on Feb 11, 2013 in category Quote of the Day
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Sunday February 10, 2013

Bafflingly British BAFTAs Honor 'Argo,' 'Amour'

For many, the British Academy Awards, the BAFTAs, are simply harbingers of the Academy Awards, the proper awards, which are doled out in two weeks; but I'm kind of fascinated by the number of best pictures the Brits give out:

  • Best Film
  • Best Film Not in the English Language
  • The Alexander Korda Award for Outstanding British Film of the Year

The last one, mostly. Imagine if the Academy gave out a best film and a best American film: say, the Louis B. Mayer Award for Outstanding American Film of the Year. It's inconceivable, really.

The BAFTAs actually began this way—Best Film from Any Source and Best British Film—way back in 1948, but it dropped Best British Film in 1968 when four of its last six Best Films were also Best British Films: “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Tom Jones,” “Dr. Strangelove,” and “A Man for All Seasons.”

At the 1983 awards ceremony, “Best Foreign Language Film” was introduced, and by the end of the decade the language was amended to the politically correct phrase currently used. The best British film award, now named for Alexander Korda, started up again for some reason in 1993.

Immediately it was a bit odd. “The Crying Game” won the Brit award that year while the best film went to “Howard's End,” which is monumentally British. The BAFTAs keep doing this. Here's a list of BAFTA Best Films that didn't also win the Alexander Korda award for Best British Film—even though they're supremely British:

  • “Four Weddings and a Funeral”
  • “Sense and Sensibility”
  • “The English Patient”
  • “The Full Monty”
  • “Shakespeare in Love”
  • “The Queen”
  • “Atonement”

The movies that win Best British Film seem to be smaller films, indies (“Shallow Grave,” “Secrets & Lies,” “Elizabeth,” “This is England”), so maybe that's the distinction. But you can be nominated for both: “Les Miserables,” for example, was nominated in both categories this year.

It won neither, by the way. Here are the winners at the 2012 BAFTAs:

  • Best Film Argo
  • Best British Film Skyfall
  • Best Film Not in the English Language Amour
  • Best Director Ben Affleck, Argo
  • Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  • Best Actress Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
  • Best Supporting Actor Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
  • Best Supporting Actress Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
  • Best Original Screenplay Django Unchained
  • Best Adapted Screenplay Silver Linings Playbook
  • Best Animated Film Brave
  • Best Documentary Searching for Sugar Man
  • Best Editing William Goldenberg, Argo
  • Best Costume Design Jacqueline Durran, Anna Karenina
  • Best Cinematography Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi
  • Best Original Music Thomas Newman, Skyfall
  • Best Visual Effects Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer, Donald R. Elliott, Life of Pi
  • Best Production Design Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson, Les Misérables

Don't get either screenplay award. Can't fault either lead actor award. Plus the Brits had the sense to nominate Marion Cotillard.

As for harbinger? BAFTA's best picture has been the Academy's best picture for the last four years (“The Artist,” “The King's Speech,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Slumdog Millionaire”) but disagreed the previous four. So who knows? Even so, another win for “Argo,” my ninth-favorite movie of 2012.

Ben Affleck, best director, BAFTAs

How do you like me now, Academy?

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Posted at 05:50 PM on Feb 10, 2013 in category Movies - Awards
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My Top 10 Movies of 2012

How do you judge the value of a film? Is it while watching it? Immediately after? During the talking and writing? In how much it stays with you? In whether you want to see it again next week? Next year? In five years? Does it say anything worth saying about what it means to exist? Does it at least entertain in a way that doesn't feel diminishing? Does it entertain without sapping our strength?

In ranking the best movies of the year, I try for some combination of all of these.

I still say 2012 was a weak year for movies. I had my favorites early on in 2009, 2010 and 2011: “L'heure d'ete,” “Up,” “Un Prophete,” “Restrepo,” “The Tree of Life,” “Des hommes et des dieux.” I had no favorites early this year. SIFF let me down. The distributors of good French films let me down. It took them so long to get “Rust and Bone” to me. I needed it last summer when stuck in the stench between superhero July and weak-tea August. September and October had its upswings but November and December were mostly cold and harsh. In the American hinterlands, such as Seattle, we wait for January and February for the best movies to finally arrive. And sometimes they're not the best movies. 

Here's my list for the best movies of 2012. When I finally put it together, right now, I thought, “You know, it's not that bad a list.”


10. Searching for Sugar Man

In the 1970s in South Africa, so the story goes, there were three albums in every white, liberal (read: anti-Apartheid) home: “Abbey Road” by the Beatles; “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel; and “Cold Fact” by Rodriguez. Everyone listened to Rodriguez. “He was the soundtrack to our lives,” says record-shop owner Steve Segerman. It just took awhile for the South Africans to realize, isolated as they were by Apartheid, that while everyone in the world knew about the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, nobody anywhere knew anything about Rodriguez.

So who was he? Where was he from? Was he still alive? How did his music get to South Africa? Documentarian Malik Bendjelloul blows it, in part, by not beginning with the mystery in South Africa but with Rodriguez himself in the 1970s in Detroit, where he lived and recorded. And died? But the story itself makes up for this miscue.

Searching for Sugar Man

9. Argo

Ben Affleck’s “Argo” is the type of movie Hollywood never makes any more: a thriller for adults, steeped in history and humor. The tension at the end is so heightened I almost got a headache. But it’s what they do at the beginning that is particularly noteworthy.

Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio have the audacity to show us, in storyboard fashion, a short history of Iran and its shahs, and of the election in 1950 of Mohammad Mosaddegh, an author and lawyer, who nationalized British and U.S. petroleum in his country, and who was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by MI6 and the CIA three years later. His replacement was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whom we all knew as the Shah of Iran, whose lifestyle was profligate, whose police force was ruthless, and who attempted to westernize his country, angering Islamic clerics. This helped lead to his own coup d’etat in 1979, which brought to power the Ayatollah Khomeini. Later that year, Iranian students overwhelmed the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Thus began the age we live in.

the hostages in Ben Affleck's "Argo" (2012)

8. The Avengers

This is the superhero movie we’ve been waiting for. It’s imbued with the same spirit that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought to comic books in the early 1960s. Comics under Stan and Jack grew like Bruce Banner under gamma radiation. They grew not only in sales but stature. They grew up. There was a new seriousness—superheroes had problems, superhero teams fought each other like family members—but there was also that pizzazz, that lack of seriousness, that insouciance. Jack’s drawings brought the gravitas and Stan’s personality the lighter-than-air pizzazz. Whedon’s “The Avengers” has that same spirit. It’s fast and fun and contains laugh-out-loud moments. It’s epic and smart and never gets bogged down. At one point I looked at my watch and nearly two hours had passed. Foosh.

How about the scene where all the aliens go after the Hulk? Twenty on one. How about that long, epic, tracking shot that shows us each Avenger in the midst of battle, like some two-page, single-panel extravaganza from Jack Kirby or John Romita or John Byrne? Christopher Nolan in his Batman movies uses quick cuts like he’s directing an MTV video for our distracted age. Whedon seems to be asking himself: How much epic battle can I contain in one tracking shot? He’s the Alfonso Cuaron of superhero directors.

The Avengers assemble

7. Monsieur Lazhar

Most teachers in these types of movies are human but heroic. Monsieur Lazhar is human but a fake. In Algeria, he was a civil servant and restaurateur, not a teacher. He isn’t even a citizen of Canada. He’s struggling to stay in the country as a political refugee but the government has doubts about his story. It thinks Algeria is back to normal now. “Algeria is never completely normal,” he responds.

He may be a fake teacher but he’s genuine. He’s fussy and a little nervous. He’s scrupulous in manner. He wants the kids to learn. He has nightmares that, because he didn’t do his job correctly, they’ll become grown-ups but speak as children. A description for our entire culture.

Monsieur Lazhar

6. Amour

Returning from a piano concerto, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) comments to his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) about the scuff marks on the lock to their beautiful high-ceilinged Paris apartment. They’re screwdriver marks. Someone has tried to break in. He dismisses the would-be thieves as amateurs, not professionals, but for the rest of the movie this feeling of imminent invasion and theft never goes away. It always feels like someone or something is about to come through the door because something is. The movie is about the most professional thief of all. The one we can’t keep out. The one who, in the end, takes everything.

If most movies lie to us or ply us with wish-fulfillment fantasies (we are handsome, good and victorious), the movies of German writer-director Michael Haneke do the opposite: they lay bare, in the starkest way, our greatest fears: We are not safe (“Funny Games”), we are not good (“The White Ribbon”), we have no privacy (“Caché”). Plus we have no idea what’s going on (all of the above). With “Amour,” he focuses on our greatest fear: We are going to die. And death, when it comes, won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty.

Amour

5. Footnote

The trailers make “Footnote” seem like a lighthearted romp but there’s nothing lighthearted about it. Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi) is a professor of Talmudic studies in Israel, as was his father, Eliezer (Shlomo Bar-Aba), before him. The younger Shkolnik is celebrated, the elder not. Eliezer’s tragedy, his long-stewing resentment, is that his life’s work was usurped by a lucky break by another scholar, Prof. Grossman (Micah Lewensohn), who, a month before Eliezer was set to publish, simply found what Eliezer’s 30 years of careful, scientific study was attempting to point towards. His entire career is now seen as unnecessary and vaguely ridiculous. His one solace: a great scholar once mentioned him in a footnote. Every year, too, he applies for the Israel Prize, the most honored of honors, but never wins. This year, that changes. He’s walking to the library, as always, to continue his pointless research, when he receives a phone call from the committee chair congratulating him. The wrinkle? The committee called the wrong Prof. Shkolnik. The honor is supposed to go to the son.

The son finds out but keeps silent. The father finds out but keeps silent. Everything that isn’t said poisons what remains. The fiction Uriel creates to save his relationship with his father destroys his relationship with his father. The ending remains unknowable. It’s a Jewish ending, an Old Testament ending. It recalls the Yiddish proverb: Man thinks, God laughs. “Footnote” is a comedy for God.

Footnote

4. Lincoln

In 1915, Pres. Woodrow Wilson called “The Birth of a Nation,” D.W. Griffith’s Confederate-friendly epic, “history written with lightning,” but I wouldn’t call this movie that. It’s history written as carefully as history should be. It’s well-researched and made dramatic and relevant. Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis), the most saintly of all presidents, isn’t presented here as a saint but as a smart, moral, political man, who, under extraordinary pressure from all sides, does what he has to do in order to do the right thing. His machinations aren’t clean. It takes a little bit of bad to do good. Progress is never easy. There are always slippery-slope arguments against it. Sure, free the slaves. Then what? Give Negroes the vote? Allow them into the House of Representatives? Give women the vote? Allow intermarriage? The preposterousness of where the road might take us prevents us from taking the first step. Then and now.

I once said of Jeffrey Wright’s Martin Luther King, Jr., that no one would ever do it better; I now say the same of Day-Lewis’ Lincoln. He only has to talk about his dreams to his wife, Mary Todd (Sally Field), with his stockinged feet up on the furniture, a kind of languid ease in his long-limbed body, and I’m his. He only has to quote Shakespeare one moment (“I could count myself a king of infinite space were it not that I have bad dreams”), and, in the next, ask Mary, in a colloquialism of the day, “How’s your coconut?” and I’m his. I remember when I was young, 10 or so, and we were visiting my father’s sister, Alice, and her husband, Ben, and when we had to leave I began to cry. Because I didn’t want to leave Uncle Ben. I liked being near him. He had a calm and gentle spirit that I and my immediate family did not. It felt comfortable to be around. I got that same feeling from Daniel Day-Lewis here. How does he do that? How do you act a calm and gentle spirit?

Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln" (2012)

3. The Master

We’re on a Pacific island beach waiting out the end of the war, and Freddie, one Navy man of many, is already isolated from the rest. He’s cutting coconuts while the other men wrestle on the beach. They make a sand woman on the beach, hair flowing, legs open, and Freddie gets on top and starts pumping away. It’s funny for a second, then gets embarrassing fast. Freddie gets too into it. There’s too much need there. When we hear the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, Freddie and other men are aboard their ship searching for, I believe, gasoline, from the ship’s missiles. To drink. “Peace is here,” the announcer intones. You look at Freddie and think: No, it’s not.

If Freddie is a wrecked man, prone to bursts of sex and violence, Lancaster Dodd is an ebullient man who cannot abide dissent. Others call him ‘The Master’ but he lives in a post-World War II democracy that has just swept away the would-be masters of the world. Dissent lives. Thus his group, like all beginning religions, are forced to wander in the wilderness: from San Francisco to New York to Philadelphia to Phoenix, where The Cause, he hopes, will be reborn. But it’s a downward trajectory. All the while, they’re losing adherents. The movie is deeply felt and rendered, beautifully shot and art-directed, and acted by artists and professionals. It’s also a failure in terms of story. But I would still rather watch it again than almost any movie released this year.

Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master" (2012)

2. End of Watch

“End of Watch,” written and directed by David Ayer (“Training Day”; “Harsh Times”), is powerful, original, funny and terrifying. It feels as authentic as anything that’s been filmed about cops. True, our guys run into more trouble in a year than most cops do in a lifetime; but the tone is right, the dialogue and acting so natural they verge on improvisational, and the vernacular so specific to police work you almost need a lexicon to understand what’s being said.

As for the Mexican drug cartel? It keeps on. Mike dies, it lives. He dies not even knowing the story he was in. One wonders if this isn’t a healthier ending than the wish-fulfillment fantasies Hollywood provides, or the kind of catharsis Aristotle recommended. We get no catharsis here, no justice, so maybe we search for it elsewhere. Maybe we try to make it happen elsewhere. At the least, “End of Watch” is a movie everyone who funds the illegal drug trade should see. Because no matter how much damage drugs do to you, the real damage isn’t done to you.

"End of Watch" (2012)

1. Rust and Bone

“De rouille et d’os” (“Rust and Bone”) is a beautiful film about tragic circumstances. In the hands of a lesser writer-director, it would be melodrama but Jacques Audiard (“Un Prophete”) makes poetry out of it. A bloody tooth, loosened during a fight, spins in slow motion on the pavement as if in dance. A woman whose legs have been cut off above the knee returns to the ocean, whose warm waters glisten. Later, with metal legs and cane, she walks down the steps at Marineland, where she once worked, and stands in silence before a large glass tank. She pats the glass once, twice. After a moment, a monster looms into view. An Orca. The Orca? The one who took her legs? One assumes not. One assumes that one has been killed but you never know and Audiard never says. We simply watch the whale move with her movements. It’s been trained, and she was one of its trainers. She’s confronting her past, finally, but it’s also a moment steeped in silence and mystery and beauty and forgiveness. It’s the best scene in the best movie of the year.

Marion Cotillard confrtonts an Orca in "Rust and Bone" (2012)

And you?

Other lists:

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Posted at 09:55 AM on Feb 10, 2013 in category Movies - Lists
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Saturday February 09, 2013

Movie Review: Amour (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Returning from a piano concerto, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) comments to his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) about the scuff marks on the lock to their beautiful high-ceilinged Paris apartment. They’re screwdriver marks. Someone has tried to break in. He dismisses the would-be thieves as amateurs, not professionals, but for the rest of the movie this feeling of imminent invasion and theft never goes away. It always feels like someone or something is about to come through the door because something is. The movie is about the most professional thief of all. The one we can’t keep out. The one who, in the end, takes everything.

If most movies lie to us or ply us with wish-fulfillment fantasies (we are handsome, good and victorious), the movies of German writer-director Michael Haneke do the opposite: they lay bare, in the starkest way, our greatest fears: We are not safe (“Funny Games”), we are not good (“The White Ribbon”), we have no privacy (“Caché”). Plus we have no idea what’s going on (all of the above).

With “Amour,” he focuses on our greatest fear: We are going to die. And death, when it comes, won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty.

Hurts hurts hurts
The above concert, performed by Alexandre (Alexandre Tharaud), a former student of Anne’s who is now internationally acclaimed, is the first and last time we see Georges and Anne outside their apartment. The next morning during breakfast, in the midst of casual conversation, Anne suddenly stops talking and stares into space. Georges can’t get a reaction out of her. She’s upright but not there. He puts a towel to her face and neck. He returns to the bedroom to change out of his pajamas to get help. Poster for Michael Haneke's "Amour" (2012)Then he hears the water in the kitchen stop running. It’s Anne. She’s back but doesn’t remember being gone.

We get medical terminology. Something stopping the flow of blood somewhere. People arrive, help out, including Georges and Anna’s daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), and the concierge and her husband, and then workmen installing a medical bed. When we next see Anne she’s in a wheelchair. She’s having trouble moving. A stroke? Is it just her right side? Yes and yes. “Please, never take me back to the hospital,” she tells her husband. He promises. “Don’t feel guilty,” she tells him. “I don’t feel guilty,” he responds, confused.

He helps her with her physical therapy. He tells her stories about his youth. He reluctantly goes to the funeral of a friend, Pierre, but, in the reporting, criticizes the event: the eulogy was bad, the music chosen, “Yesterday” by the Beatles, was maudlin and provoked laughter from the young, the urn stood on a stand meant for a coffin. Anne doesn’t want to hear any of this. I suppose Georges is her Michael Haneke, telling her unpalatable truths. “You’re a monster sometimes,” she tells him, “but very kind.” Haneke shows us monsters. The kindness we get here is new.

Anne’s former student, Alexandre, turns up, initially full of himself, and Anne is happy to see him but he’s obviously shocked by Anne’s state. Days later, when he sends along his latest CD, the note talks of “the beautiful and sad moment” of his visit. Anne’s face closes off. During his visit, she’d requested a number, and he’d filled the room with beauty. Now she tells Georges to turn off his CD. His visit, I’m sure, was a high moment for her, and now it’s tarnished by the word “sad.”  She doesn’t want pity. She wants to maintain a certain level of dignity. But time keeps slipping in and stealing things.

She wets the bed. Eva visits again, this time with her British husband, Geoff (William Shimell), and by now, Anne, bedridden, can only speak gibberish. Apparently there was a second stroke. She has to wear a diaper. She’s fed mush. Wasn’t it just a few scenes ago where she was eating dinner with her husband in the kitchen? Steak and vegetables? At that time, her world seemed narrowed but now that moment feels full of possibility. One thinks of Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Illych.” The world keeps shrinking and shrinking. Time keeps taking and taking. Anne is Georges’ whole life now. He hires one nurse, then another. The second one is incompetent, obtuse in her cruelty. She brushes Anne’s hair too hard, then forces her to look into mirrors she doesn’t want to look into. Georges fires her. She doesn’t get it. Georges explains. She refuses to see it. She calls Georges names. “You’re a mean old man,” she says. More Beatles.

George tries to feed Anne but she’s obstinate and angry. “If you don’t drink, you will die,” he says. “Do you want that?” She does. He forces water on her. She spits it out and he slaps her. Both are horrified by what they’ve become.

She moans a lot. “Money for concert,” she says at one point, remembering, no doubt, something from childhood. “Hurts, hurts, hurts,” she says more often. He returns to her bedside, pats her hand to calm her, tells her another story. She calms down. Then he grabs a pillow and against her struggles smothers her to death. It’s not just what she wants, it’s what we want, too. Make it fucking end.

What nightmares may come
We actually watch the entire movie waiting for the moment of death. In the beginning, before the concert, we see the police and concierge break down the door to her bedroom, where Anne lies, as if in state, on a bed amid flowers. Her face is slightly shrunken and the men hold handkerchiefs to their noses and open the windows. Otherwise the place is empty. As a result, throughout the film, we’re wondering how it gets to that point. Why does Georges leave her this way? And where does he go?

He drifts. After Anne’s death, he gets flowers. He prepares her. He seals up her bedroom. Pigeons often get into their apartment and he works to shoo them out but now we watch him close the window on one pigeon and trap it with a blanket. We assume the worst (it’s Haneke) but he simply strokes it beneath the blanket. He’s lonely. At least that’s how I read it.

When he leaves the apartment, at Anne’s urging, is that the moment of his own death (she returns to get him) or the moment when delusion trumps reality? Is he dead in the apartment or does he wander the street, perhaps to die there, or to be found and put in a hospital, where he’ll die, amid the tubes and the diapers and the slow closing off of the world? This is kindler, gentler Haneke (that pigeon wouldn’t have survived in “The White Ribbon”), but he still leaves us with questions. He doesn’t round off his ending. It’s as frayed as ever.

In the theater lobby afterwards, with everyone trying to exhale and live again, a woman in her sixties turned to me. “I have two words for that movie,” she said. “Assisted suicide.” I nodded, paused. “I have four words for that movie,” I said. “I need a drink.”

Neither her two words nor my four words relieved the horror. On the walk home I saw a little girl, 5 maybe, skipping in an alleyway between her parents, and wanted to yell at her. “Don’t you know what’s going to HAPPEN?!? The awful fate that awaits you!?! Yes, YOU!” Is this what it’s like being Michael Haneke? How does he sleep? What nightmares does he have? Or does he put them on the screen for the rest of us and sleep like a baby? Many people see me as a cynic, a grump, a curmudgeon before my time; but compared to Haneke I feel like the most wide-eyed Pollyanna that ever skipped the earth.

The dude’s a cold genius, but there’s little warmth and not much beauty in his vision. I think of Bill Cunningham’s line from last year’s documentary: He who seeks beauty will find it. Where is the beauty in Haneke’s vision? Where is the joy? Surely there’s joy. Once in a while?

If this is “Amour,” and I get why it is, please, Michael Haneke, don’t show us “Haine.”

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Posted at 08:54 AM on Feb 09, 2013 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Friday February 08, 2013

The New Definition of Hubris: Telling Jackie Robinson How to Slide

Step one

Warner Bros. releases a poster for the new Jackie Robinson biopic, “42,” to which movie blogger and “Lincoln” nemesis Jeffrey Wells objects. His first thought: “Who slides with his right fist raised in a victory salute?” He thought it looked like bullshit. He thought it did a disservice to the movie and to Jackie.

Here's the poster:

poster for Jackie Robinson biopic "42"

Step two

Readers of Hollywood Elsewhere point out that any Google image search of “Jackie Robinson sliding” will demonstrate that Jackie did in fact slide with his hand balled into a fist. Other readers will point out that this is the way you're supposed to slide. It prevents dislocated or broken fingers.

Here's a photo of Jackie Robinson sliding:

Jackie Robinson sliding

Step three

Wells owns up to this. He provides a link to all the photos. But he still objects to the poster. He writes:

The bottom line is that the poster still looks phony even if Robinson did that fist thing every time. Partly because his mouth is open as if he's shouting “yeaaahhhh!” It looks like an advertising con, and if I were running the marketing on this movie I would tell the art guys to not use it. Fine for the movie, not fine for the poster.

The awful thing about Wells? He's right here. This part is right. It's not partly because his mouth is open as if he's shouting “yeaaahhhh!” It's completely because his mouth is open as if he's shouting “yeaaahhhh!” Wells gets it. The poster isn't as powerful for this very reason.

But then Wells keeps his mouth open.

Step four

He writes this:

Imagine how beautiful this image would be on its own terms if Robinson's right hand was more or less open-palmed and going for balance, like any athlete's hand would be at such a moment. I've slid into bases. I know what's involved so don't tell me. The fist thing is odd.

It took me a second to realize what Wells was saying here. I've slid into bases. I know what's involved so don't tell me. The man who began this Oscar season by telling Daniel Day-Lewis how to act was ending it by telling Jackie Robinson how to slide.

That's gotta be the new definition of hubris.

I look forward to future blog posts in which Jeff Wells tells Babe Ruth how to hit homeruns, Martin Luther King, Jr. how to give a speech, and James Joyce how to write.

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Posted at 03:33 PM on Feb 08, 2013 in category Movies
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Is Redirection Affecting Andrew Sullivan's Google Juice?

About a week ago I noticed the number of hits on this site dropping off. They were never particularly big but they'd been steadily rising since 2008, and last year they took a great leap (for me) forward.

Now they were dropping again. By as much as a third. I was perplexed. I assumed that maybe the links to my site from more prominent sites had a kind of statute of limitations, and after time they had less value in Google's algorithms, and thus my own PageRank. As a result, all of those keyword searches would go elsewhere and the number of one-time visitors would drop. But by a third? That seemed extreme.

A few days ago, I hit upon a possible answer.

Last summer this site was linked to by Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish, twice. Earlier this year, Sullivan, a longtime blogger previously associated with the Atlantic site, and now part of Tina Brown's The Daily Beast, struck out on his own with an ad-free, subscriber model. He was asking $19.99 from readers annually. I signed up quickly. I left a tip.

I think he finally ported over to the new site in late January or early February. All of his content went with him, of course, so any link to his blog when it was with the Daily Beast (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/) would simply redirect to the new site (dish.andrewsullivan.com).

But do such redirects affect PageRank? Apparently they do. And as Sullivan's PageRank went down, so the value of his links to my site went down. And so the numbers for my site went down.

Or maybe they don't affect PageRank. Opinions on this differ. So maybe the answer to my slump is elsewhere.

Thoughts from SEO folks welcome.

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Posted at 07:48 AM on Feb 08, 2013 in category Technology
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Thursday February 07, 2013

Quote of the Day

“Last year's [58% voter] turnout was right in the middle of the 17 elections presented in this chart—better than eight, but worse than eight. ... The friendly and civic-minded people of Minnesota always have the nation's highest turnout, and this year an admirable 75.7 percent of them came to the polls. At the other end, four states came in below 50 percent: Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Hawaii, bringing up the rear at 44 percent.”

-- Paul Waldman, “Voter Turnout in 2012: Meh,” on The American Prospect site.

Yay Minnesota! Of the four states who don't show up, meanwhile, three are deep red and one is deep blue (Hawaii). Waldman explores, or at least links to, an explanation for HI. Apparently we know the explanation in TX, OK and WV.

U.S. voter turnout: 1948-2012. From The American Prospect

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Posted at 02:02 PM on Feb 07, 2013 in category Politics
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Lancelot Links

  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing? Say it's so. Make it so. The problem with i09's article? They contrast the role with Cumberbatch's turn as Sherlock Holmes when they should compare it to the work he did on “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” That's the role where the movie's producers probably went, “Hey, why not him?”
  • The website Scouting New York goes back to all the locations in Woody Allen's “Annie Hall.” Which reminds me: I need some eggs.
  • There were a lot of dudes when I was growing up but Joe Namath was the dudeiest of the dudes: professional athlete, B-movie star (not that we differentiated), sex symbol, fumanchu-moustache wearer. Plus he got to hang with Farrah. For the Wall Street Journal, of all papers, Namath recalls his 1960s Manhattan bachelor pad.
  • Ed Koch, movie critic.
  • We've found our Sharon Carter for the next Captain America movie: Emily VanCamp. Nice belt, darling. Now don't fuck this up, everybody. The story is in the time lost. And it's not 18 years (1945-63) as it was in the comics. It's nearly 60 years. You've got a superpowered 20-year-old virgin, born in 1925 but living in 2013. Don't forget any aspect of this.
  • I actually applied for this job but it's nice that it went to a great writer and critic.
  • The Florida doc PED scandal continues. With Jesus Montero? Man, if that's how he hits with PEDs, I cringe to think how he does without them.
  • The New Yorker's John Cassidy on how what we're doing with the fiscal crisis (austerity; cutting the budget; raising payroll taxes) is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. To quote Joe Henry in the song “Dirty Magazine”: “Just tell me everything I've heard before. Like it was news. Like it was news.”

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing?

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing? Make it so.

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Posted at 07:18 AM on Feb 07, 2013 in category Lancelot Links
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Wednesday February 06, 2013

Quote of the Day

“[The New York press] never let me forget it. They called me 'Sappy' and 'Playboy,' and when I said I loved baseball they saw fit to ridicule that, too, and when I had to chasten some of their heroes, people like Del Webb and Leo Durocher, they never failed to take their side. But I don't embarrass easily. If you are sober and diligent and forthright, there is no reason to be embarassed.”

--Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler, the 44th and 49th governor of Kentucky, a U.S. Senator from Kentucky (1939-1945), and the second Commissioner of Major League Baseball, as quoted in “1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball,” by Red Barber. Some say MLB would not have integrated in 1947 if Chandler had not been commissioner.

Jackie Robinson, Happy Chandler, and Don Newcombe

Commissioner 'Happy' Chandler, living up to his nickname, standing between Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe.

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Posted at 03:12 PM on Feb 06, 2013 in category Baseball
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Tuesday February 05, 2013

Try This One Weird Trick and Hit 647 Homeruns

When I went to ESPN.com's story on a Florida doctor injecting Yankees third-baseman Alex Rodriguez with performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), this was the ad that popped up along the right-hand side:

"One weird trick and build muscle"

Two things about the ad cracked me up:

  1. “Cambridge” scientists. Why Cambridge?
  2. “...one weird trick.” Why “weird” and why “trick”? Why not “ancient” and why not“secret”? If it's because “one weird trick” appeals to a certain low-IQ browser, I then go back to my first question. Will someone to whom “one weird trick” appeals know where or what Cambridge is?

But mostly I love its placement in the middle of tsking A-Rod story. I like our umbrage at A-Rod and our interest in Cambridge. Is America beyond irony or are we just too stupid for it? Maybe Cambridge scientists can figure it out.

Try this one weird trick and hit 647 career homeruns.

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Posted at 07:44 PM on Feb 05, 2013 in category Advertisements
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Monday February 04, 2013

Movie Review: Rust and Bone (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I want the movies to stun me. I want to walk out of the theater in a daze. Hollywood didn’t help much in this regard this past year. They left it to the French to pick up the slack.

“De rouille et d’os” (“Rust and Bone”) is a beautiful film about tragic circumstances. In the hands of a lesser writer-director, it would be melodrama but Jacques Audiard (“Un Prophete”) makes poetry out of it. A bloody tooth, loosened during a fight, spins in slow motion on the pavement as if in dance. A woman whose legs have been cut off above the knee returns to the ocean, whose warm waters glisten. Later, with metal legs and cane, she walks down the steps at Marineland, where she once worked, and stands in silence before a large glass tank. She pats the glass once, twice. After a moment, a monster looms into view. An Orca. The Orca? The one who took her legs? One assumes not. One assumes that one has been killed but you never know and Audiard never says. We simply watch the whale move with her movements. It’s been trained, and she was one of its trainers. She’s confronting her past, finally, but it’s also a moment steeped in silence and mystery and beauty and forgiveness. It’s the best scene of 2012.

Being watched, getting bored
“Rust and Bone” is a tougher story to tell than Audiard’s previous film, “Un Prophete,” and not because Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) loses her legs a half-hour in. Poster for "Rust and Bone" (2012)“Un Prophete” was about one man: Malik. The camera follows him. Easy. This is about two people, Stéphanie and Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), and for half the movie they’re not together. Audiard has to juggle their storylines. He has to bring them together, and apart, and together, in a way that feels real.

They don’t meet cute. He’s a down-on-his luck Belgian boxer with a five-year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdure), who comes to stay with his sister, a cashier, in a clapboard, motel-like apartment complex in Antibes, near Nice, on the southern coast of France. We watch him scrounge for food, steal, hitchhike. He’s not the best father. He often seems lost in thought but one can’t imagine the thought. He’s mostly just there.

Through a friend of his sister’s he gets a job as a bouncer at a club, L’Annex, and later that night there’s a fracas and Ali is restraining a guy who’s causing trouble. We see a woman’s legs, supine, on the dance floor, then her bloody nose. Did the dude punch her? Aren’t there laws against that? Not against punching women in general but Marion Cotillard. That’s like digging an elbow into the Mona Lisa or taking a hammer to Michelangelo’s David.

On the drive home, she’s drunk and distant, he’s matter-of-fact and clumsy. He mentions the way she dresses. How do I dress? she asks. He fumbles a bit. He doesn’t have the word. Actually he does, and uses it with a shrug: whore. She can’t quite believe him. This pattern will repeat itself.

It’s significant, of course, that we first see her as legs. It’s significant that he stares at her legs on the ride home. It’s significant that he goes up to her place to ice his knuckles, since his knuckles will have a rendezvous with ice later in the film.

After she’s lost her legs, and after they’ve begun what they’ve begun, we’ll get a better understanding of what might have happened that night at L’Annex. She makes this admission to him:

I liked being watched. I liked turning them on. I liked getting them all worked up. But then I'd just get bored.

Past tense. She obviously misses it—and doesn’t. She obviously doesn’t particularly like the person she was—but misses it.

We get a soupçon of her life before the Marineland accident, and at the hospital we see the result before she does. We see the absence and wait uncomfortably. This has been a famous scene before, notably in “King’s Row” with Ronald Reagan. “Where’s the rest of me?” he says. It’s probably the best acting he ever did. Cotillard blows him away. She grounds an unreal scene. Her trauma is overwhelming. “What did you do with my legs?” she says over and over, on the floor, crawling, because there are no other words. There are no other words for a long time.

Do you even realize?
Would Stéphanie and Ali have gotten together without the accident? There are barriers of class and attitude between them. He’s working class, she’s middle class or higher. She’s educated, he’s not. 

But he’s exactly what she needs because he’s without pretense or pity. He does what he does, wants what he wants, shrugs away the rest. She’s been holed up in a state-run apartment for months when he first visits her. He wants to go outside; she doesn’t; they do. He wants to go swimming; she doesn’t; they do. “Do you even realize?” she says when he first suggests it. Do you even realize? He doesn’t. That’s his charm. On the boardwalk, she whistles for him, like a dog, and he carries her closer to the water, and then into the water, where she’s tentative at first—she doesn’t know how well she’ll swim without the bottom half of her legs. Then she feels it. Then she knows she can do it. In the audience I worried she’d try to swim away and drown herself but Ali has no such worry. He actually dozes on the beach, and she has to whistle for him again to come get her. “Fuck, this feels good,” she says.

It would be reductive to suggest she tames and trains this beast of a man, this mixed martial-arts fighter, the way she tamed and trained whales. He’s not much of a beast, for one. He has kindnesses. He’s just a lunk. He’s generally a considerate lunk but other times not. He’s impatient with his son, non-committal with his sister. He doesn’t think of the consequences of his actions. This helps with Stéphanie, initially, because others are walking on eggshells around her and it’s the eggshells that hurt. One day she talks about not having had sex since the accident, not knowing if it even works anymore, and as they’re doing dishes he brings it up:

He: You want to fuck?
She: What?
He: To see if it still…
She: Just like that?

Just like that. I like a scene, at the gym where we trains, where he watches a woman leading others in aerobics or yoga; then the two are outside smoking cigarettes and he says a word of greeting; then they’re fucking. Just like that. This tryst causes him to be late picking up Sam at school, for which he’s admonished by an administrator. Third time in two weeks, he’s told. Do you even realize? After a mixed martial-arts victory, he and his crew, including Stéphanie, go to L’Annex, but he leaves with another girl. She goes to the bar to drown whatever she’s feeling, and a clumsy, overbearing dude tries to pick her up. Then he sees her metal legs. Then he’s on eggshells. His apology implies this: I should have pitied you instead of lusted for you. He gets a drink in the face and a bloody nose. We’ve come full circle. The next morning she lays out the rules with Ali, who chafes under rules. But she’s matter-of-fact about it:

Let’s show some manners. I mean consideration. You’ve always been so considerate to me. We continue but not like animals.

One doesn’t expect much from his fight career but he’s good. He thrives on it. After one victory he’s so pumped he needs to expend more energy and bursts out of the van for a run. Some of the best moments in the movie are the small moments: the confused pride on Stéphanie’s face when she’s nonchalantly dismissed as “his girlfriend”; the way she jerks imperceptibly when he’s taken down; the look of amused pride on her face when she takes over as his manager and deals successful with the rabble of noisy, bartering men.

Of course, to me, any moment with Marion Cotillard’s face in it is a good moment.

Just like that
Things fall apart in a way that feels aesthetically pleasing. Ali helps his manager, Martial (Bouli Lanners), who is silent, bearded and gruff, install camera equipment at stores. Not to spy on customers but workers. It’s illegal, they’re found out, photos are taken by angry employees, and Martial has to leave town to avoid prosecution. But as a result of this work, Ali’s sister gets canned for taking expired foods that have been tossed by the company. Imagine: She takes in Ali, takes care of his son, and he gets her fired. Do you even realize? There’s a scene. There’s a shotgun. He leaves. Just like that.

Is the ending hurried? Suddenly Ali is training for national tournaments in the snow, and the sister’s boyfriend brings Sam to the camp for the day. They’re skating in their shoes on an iced-over lake, and Ali turns to take a piss. Behind him we see Sam disappear through the ice. Eventually Ali runs to the hole but finds his son some distance away, trapped beneath the ice. It’s a horrific image. He begins to pound on the ice with his bare fists. Something begins to crack but we don’t think it’s the ice. “Rust and Bone” is such a tactile movie. I doubt many people in the audience breathed during this scene.

In a voiceover we’re told about bones breaking and healing but how afterwards, as Hemingway said, some are stronger in the broken places. Not the bones in the hand, though. You feel those breaks the rest of your life. So I assumed his career was over. I assumed the movie was about a swimmer who loses her legs and a mixed martial-arts fighter who loses his fists, but in the final shots he’s with Stéphanie and Sam at a Warsaw hotel before a big, international match. So that’s not it. So I suppose it’s about the pain. It’s about continuing with a pain that won’t go away. I suppose that’s why we get, as the credits roll, Sigur Rós’ “The Wolves (Act I & 2)” sounding like a benediction:

Someday my pain 
Someday my pain will mark you.
Harness your blame
Harness your blame and walk through. 

I left the theater in a daze. I walked and walked and didn’t want to lose the feeling the movie gave me like a gift.

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Posted at 06:43 AM on Feb 04, 2013 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Sunday February 03, 2013

Moviegoers Warm to 'Warm Bodies,' Give 'Bullet to the Head' a Bullet to the Head

“Warm Bodies,” the zombie romance and “Twilight” takeoff from Jonathan Levine (“50/50”), opened in 3,009 theaters and grossed more than $19 million. It was the No. 1 movie at the box office this weekend. By far. By more than twice its gross.

“Bullet to the Head,” the new Sylvester Stallone shoot-em-up directed by Walter Hill (“48 Hours”), opened in 2,404 theaters and grossed $4.5 million. It finished in sixth place, behind the second weekend of “Hansel and Gretel” ($9 million), the 12th weekend of “Silver Linings Playbook” ($8.1 million), the third weekend of “Mama” ($6.7m) and the seventh weekend of “Zero Dark Thirty” ($5.3 million).

Elsewhere, “Parker,” the Jason Stratham vehicle with J-Lo, continued to die quickly, grossing $3.2 mil for 7th place. In two weekends it's earned $12.4 million. What's a tough guy to do? Study? Be nice to girls?

Meanwhile, Zeitgeist Films blew a shot at some money, opening “Koch” in two theaters the weekend Ed Koch actually died. What you get for thinking small: $40K.

The overall box-office numbers for the best picture nominees, by the way, are fairly impressive:

MOVIE DOMESTIC BOX OFFICE
Lincoln $170,787,000
Django Unchained $150,979,000
Les Miserables $141,523,000
Argo $120,443,000
Life of Pi $106,059,000
Silver Linings Playbook $80,378,000
Zero Dark Thirty $77,798,000
Beasts of the Southern Wild $11,756,048
Amour $2,488,000

Five movies over $100 million? With shots for SLP and ZDT to make that mark, too? So 7 of 9. Wasn't that the name of the busty Borg on that latter-day “Star Trek” show? Yes, it was

But none of these Oscar nominees are going to be top 10 for the year. Recontinuing the tradition.

The warmed-over numbers here.

"Bullet to the Head" banner poster

Revenge may never get old but action stars do. Just ask Arnold.

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Posted at 05:23 PM on Feb 03, 2013 in category Movies - Box Office
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Movie Review: Warm Bodies (2013)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The problem with zombie movies has always been zombies. They’re boring. They shuffle and groan and travel in packs and eat flesh or brains and get killed by shotguns. Yay. They’re most interesting as metaphors, as in “Shaun of the Dead,” for shuffling, brain-dead commuters working deadening, soul-destroying jobs. Us. We’re zombies before the flesh-eating even begins.

We get a few moments like that in “Warm Bodies,” the new zombie flick written and directed by Jonathan Levine (“50/50”). Our main character, “R” (Nicholas Hoult), is a zombie who shuffles around an abandoned airport with dozens of other zombies. Warm Bodies posterHe’s friends with no one except “M” (Rob Cordrey), with whom he shares the usual zombie grunts and grrs at the airport bar before one of them is able to annunciate a word. Generally it’s: “hungry.” And off they go, in search of brains.

But “R” misses days of communication and flashes back to what it was like before. What was it like before? When people could express themselves, and communicate their feelings, and enjoy each other’s company? Flash to footage of busy people walking around the airport, looking at their cellphones, and texting. Zombie nation had already begun.

Holden Caulfield is dead, but in a good way
“R” is so named because that’s all of his name he can remember. He’s also “R” because that’s the sound they make, isn’t it? Arrrr. He’s “R” for another reason as well. We’ll get to that.

If “R” can’t communicate with others he certainly can with us, and the opening voiceover  gives us the first of many laugh-out loud moments:

What am I doing with my life? So pale, I should get out more, I should eat better. My posture is terrible. I should stand up straighter. People would respect me more if I stood up straighter.

What’s wrong with me? I just want to connect. Why can’t I connect with people?

Oh right. Because I’m dead.

He’s the angsty, smart, teen zombie. He’s also retro. He hangs out on an old jumbo jet on the runway where he listens to LPs on a turntable because he likes the sound better than CDs or MP3s. It’s mostly ‘80s music: “Missing You” by John Waits, “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses, “Hungry Heart” by Springsteen. He yearns. Then he falls in love.

Out in search of food, they come across a group of well-armed teens stockpiling medicines for the nearby walled city, protected by Grigio (John Malkovich). That’s where R spots Grigio’s daughter, Julie (Teresa Palmer), a bit of a Kristen Stewart lookalike, wearing tight jeans and an army jacket, and falls in love. It helps, too, that he eats the brains of Perry, her boyfriend (Dave Franco of “21 Jump Street”). Zombies don’t sleep, they don’t remember much, but if you eat the brains of another you absorb their memories. That’s what he does with Perry. After that, he protects Julie. He rubs zombie goo on her face to hide her scent from the others; then he takes her back to his place. He plays her records. They begin to bond. And he begins to come back to life. Literally. We get a heartbeat.

Later, when the other zombies see them holding hands, they begin to get heartbeats, too. Zombification, it turns out, isn’t an endgame, which has always been another problem with zombie movies. Here, it’s a kind of purgatory where you have three options: you can become truly dead (shotgun to the head); you can become a “bonie,” a zombie which has ripped off its own flesh, leaving only the superfast skeleton beneath; or you can return to life. You just need to care. You just need to feel a little love. 1980s music? Screw that. The message is all 1960s: What the world needs now…

Star-crossed
R and Julie are obviously a humorous update of Edward and Bella from “Twilight”: a love story between a human girl and a classic horror monster. (I’m waiting on the Frankenstein version.) But they’re also, more meaningfully, a modern-day, or futuristic, Romeo and Juliet. They’re star-crossed lovers. Her dad doesn’t like him; his friends want to eat her brains. You know how it is. At one point we even get a balcony scene. That’s why the “R” as well. For Romeo. Or Ralph. Because what’s in a name?

I expected nothing from “Warm Bodies” but it’s witty and charming throughout. And if it moves slowly at times, well, these are zombies.

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Posted at 08:25 AM on Feb 03, 2013 in category Movie Reviews - 2013
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Saturday February 02, 2013

Ben Affleck Wins DGA

The line from the Directors Guild of America Award for best director to the Oscar for best director to the Oscar for best picture has been fairly straight over the years.

In the 1990s, we had two stumbles: Ron Howard (“Apollo 13”) won the DGA but he wasn't nom'ed for the Oscar. As a result, the Oscar's best director and best picture went to Mel Gibson and “Braveheart” instead. Then in 1998, Steven Spielberg won both the DGA and the Oscar for best director but his picture, “Saving Private Ryan,” in one of the greatest upsets in Oscar history (engineered by Harvey Weinstein, of course), went to “Shakesepare in Love.” Blah.

In the first decade of the 21st century, we had even more stumbles. 2000 was all over the place: Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger”) got the Directors Guild of America logo (DGA)DGA, Steve Soderbergh (“Traffic”) got the Oscar, but the best pic went to “Gladiator.” In 2002, Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) got the DGA, and his picture, “Chicago,” got the Oscar, but the best director Oscar went, deservedly to Roman Polanski (“The Pianist”). Then there was the mess of 2005: DGA and Oscar to Ang Lee for “Brokeback Mountain,” best pic to “Crash.” Don't get me started on that one.

Since? The line hasn't been broken.

This year it will be. The winner of the DGA tonight was Ben Affleck for “Argo”; and since he hasn't been nominated for an Oscar for best director, it's gotta go to someone else—most likely Steven Spielberg.

As for best picture then?

Well, the last time a director won the DGA and hadn't been nominated for an Oscar was Ron Howard in 1995. Mel Gibson and “Braveheart” were the beneficiaries that year. Could Spielberg and “Lincoln” be the beneficiaries this year? No pun intended on “ben.”

On the other hand, since the advent of the SAG-cast award in 1996, any movie that won all three of the guilds won the Oscar for best picture: “The King's Speech,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” “Chicago,” and “American Beauty.”

Here's the guild history:

Year DGA PGA SAG - CAST
2012 Argo Argo Argo
2011 The Artist The Artist The Help
2010 The King's Speech The King's Speech The King's Speech
2009 The Hurt Locker The Hurt Locker Inglourious Bastards
2008 Slumdog Millionaire Slumdog Millionaire Slumdog Millionaire
2007 No Country for Old Men No Country for Old Men No Country for Old Men
2006 The Departed Little Miss Sunshine Little Miss Sunshine
2005 Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain Crash
2004 Million Dollar Baby The Aviator Sideways
2003 Lord of the Rings Lord of the Rings Lord of the Rings
2002 Chicago Chicago Chicago
2001 A Beautiful Mind Moulin Rouge! Gosford Park
2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Gladiator Traffic
1999 American Beauty American Beauty American Beauty
1998 Saving Private Ryan Saving Private Ryan Shakespeare in Love
1997 Titanic Titanic The Full Monty
1996 The English Patient The English Patient The Birdcage
1995 Apollo 13 Apollo 13  
1994 Forrest Gump Forrest Gump  
1993 Schindler's List Schindler's List  
1992 Unforgiven The Crying Game  
1991 Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs
1990 Dances with Wolves Dances with Wolves  
1989 Born on the 4th of July Driving Miss Daisy  

Elsewhere in the night, “Searching for Sugar Man” won the DGA for best documentary, Jay Roach won for best movie on television (“Game Change”), and Milos Forman won the lifetime achievement award.

My early bet is split vote: Spielberg and “Argo.” But what do I know? I'm in Seattle.

Ben Affleck in "Argo" (2012)

For the guilds, it's Argo, Argo, Argo.

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Posted at 10:54 PM on Feb 02, 2013 in category Movies - Awards
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The Best Movie Scene of the Year

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Posted at 10:17 AM on Feb 02, 2013 in category Movies
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Friday February 01, 2013

Joaquin Phoenix Praises Film Crew, Gives Nod to 'Up-and-Comer' Daniel Day-Lewis

“I struggle with the idea of winning awards for acting. Stating I'm Best Actor for something as subjective as film seems strange to me. To the uninitiated it implies I'm solely responsible for the creation and implementation of the character. I am not. I suppose that's why we thank our colleagues. There are those who you all know such as Paul Thomas Anderson, to whom I am eternally grateful – a man who has persistently searched for the truth. I am fortunate to have been under his guidance. Philip Seymour Hoffman for his patience and advice. Amy Adams for being angry. Megan Ellison and everyone at Annapurna for their support of the film and ensuring that I was able to cover my mortgage. But there are many others who you do not know by name such as Mike Kenna, who I believe was the grip but he did 20 different jobs so I can't be sure; Adam Somner, the first assistant director; Karen Ramirez in the office; Tommy – I don't know your last name… there are too many to list. The truth is, you cannot separate my work from their's. We were a unit bolstered by the same goal: to do our part in helping Paul to achieve his vision. I view this award as recognition of all of our work. I am very cognisant of the fact that for me this award is an encouragement to continue my lifelong passion of being an actor. I will not squander this high regard. P.S. There's an up-and-coming actor named Daniel who's in a movie called 'Lincoln.' You should check it out.”

-- Joaquin Phoenix, a non-attendee, in a note of thanks for winning the London Critics' Circle Award for Actor of the Year. Very, very classy. In the same gathering, Jacques Audiard's “Rust and Bone” won best foreign language film. See it.

Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master"

Freddie, by way of Joaquin, Paul, Philip, Amy, Megan, Mike, Karen, Tommy, et al.

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Posted at 09:51 AM on Feb 01, 2013 in category Movies - Awards
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Lancelot Links

  • I vaguely remember this song, “I Love Onions,” from when I was a kid. It was a popular kitschy, mid-60s song. Was it riding the wave of “When I'm 64” or was Paul riding its wave? The startling info here is that the singer is Jacki Weaver, who plays Bradley Cooper's mom, and Robert De Niro's wife, in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Originally Australian. She's cute. That's the point. A few years ago, she got an Oscar nonination for “Animal Kingdom”? I don't remember that. Also nom'ed for “SLP,” of course. She and everyone. Shame. 
  • Rick Perlstein reports on a libertarian who comes in from the cold. What turned him? Working at a bookstore, of course. In my mind, everyone should work a year of customer service. I think it would eliminate a lot of dickish behavior in our society. I don't think libertarians are dickish, necessarily; I just think most of them are hopelessly naive about corporate life and human nature.
  • In a recent column, Thomas Friedman told us that the world wasn't just connected but “hyper-connected.” He said it as if it was news. Gawker then gave us 14 examples of Friedman using “hyper-connected” in a similar context during the last two years, before following with, “We get it.”
  • Chris Nolan is forgiven: He likes “The Thin Red Line.”
  • I really wish the Danish version of “The Killing” was available on Netflix, Netflix.
  • Eighteen days until the Blu-Ray release of Michael Mann's “The Insider,” one of the best movies of the last 20 years. I'm so there. I might even have to update this paltry review.
  • The main Talk of the Town piece a few weeks ago was by Jeffrey Toobin and about voting rights and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and what the Roberts court might do to it. Toobin calls it “the most effective law of its kind in the history of the United States” but knows John, Antonin, Clarence and Samuel aren't fans of Section Five. Necessary reading.
  • NY Times headline: 'That Cuddy Kitty of Yours is a Killer.' Not to get all first grade about this, but no duh. Sure, the number of kills is impressive (Yearly: 2.4 billion birds, 12.3 billion mammals) but the headline itself won't be news, and is in fact insulting, to anyone who owns a cat. We named ours Jellybean, which is a cute name, and Jellybean is a cute cat. She's an indoors cat, too. We live on a busy thoroughfare, second floor. She prowls the hallway and hangs out on the overhang about the front doorway. But we're not fooled. Birds show up in the trees outside the living room and her mouth trembles and quivers. She can taste blood.
  • And I thought I wrote long reviews. And I thought Idisliked the Clint Eastwood movie “Trouble with the Curve,” which was No. 1 on my Five Worst Movies of the Year list. Then I read Joe Posnanski's takedown. Ouch.
  • I was always a fan of “The Andy Griffith Show.” I thought it was generally underrated when talking about good, early sitcoms. So I was tickled when I saw this on Facebook the other day. It also happens to be true. I followed the name along the side, Mojopo, and I'm now following her on Twitter.

Maybe the conservatives are right. Maybe we could learn a lot from the folks in Mayberry: The Andy Griffith Show

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Posted at 07:19 AM on Feb 01, 2013 in category Lancelot Links
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