(But Who is Alan Turing?)
The first time Alan Turing's name appeared in The New York Times was 20 years after his death, and his name was just a passing reference in an essay by Guy Davenport over the shameful obscurity of another man, the Canadian critic Hugh Kenner, whom Davenport assumed, or hoped, future generations would admire more than the rabble did in 1973.
Of Kenner's 1968 book of literary and cultural criticism, Davenport writes:
“The Counterfeiters” is a lesson in how to see. Not how to see surfaces but the inside of things and the astounding affinities of things which heretofore seemed to have nothing to do with each other. Vaucanson and Yeats, for instance (but who is Vaucanson?), metaphysical poetry and Babbage (but who is Babbage?), Buster Keaton and Alan Turing (but who is Alan Turing?).
Do first references get any better? A writer mocking critics for not knowing the name of a man the publication he's writing in—and which calls itself “the paper of record”—has never printed.
At this point, even to Kenner, Turing was a genius and/or “eccentric” mathematician and no more. The story of Ultra, and the Enigma machine, didn't break until a year later, 1974, with the publication of F.W. Winterbotham's “The Ultra Secret.” That story, which makes up most of the Oscar-nominated “The Imitation Game,” was unknown but to a few. Indeed, in the mid-1960s, in a long essay on computers in The New Yorker, in which Turing is liberally mentioned, we get this puzzled query near the end:
Turing's story has gained traction as computers became part of everyday life and mainstream culture became more accepting of homosexuality. In the 21st century, when you first hear his background, it seems impossibly dramatic. Wait, a father of the modern computer? And gay? And builder of the machine that broke the code that brought down the Nazis and saved millions of lives and potentially all of us from speaking German—or not speaking at all? And persecuted for his homosexuality after the war? Despite saving all of those lives? Why have I not heard of this guy before?
Derek Jacobi was the first to play Turing, on a BBC-2 TV series called “Micro Live,” in 1983. He was also the second, in 1996, recreating his Tony-nominated performance from the 1987 Broadway play, “Breaking the Code.” Benedict Cumberbatch is the seventh. There will be more.
Derek Jacobi as Alan Turing, with Claudius' stutter.
Movie Review: Selma (2014)
First, yeah, it screws up LBJ.
Second, it gets almost everything else right.
Let’s start with the casting. I kept going “That’s got to be...” and every time it was: Andrew Young (André Holland), John Lewis (Stephan James), Diane Nash (Tessa Thompson). Nigel Thatch looks more like Malcolm X than anyone who’s ever portrayed him on screen. Wendell Pierce isn’t exactly a dead ringer for Hosea Williams, but he brings that Wendell Pierce “shit is fucked/I got your back” spirit with him. Check out the scene where he calls John Lewis—who put his body on the line during the Nashville sit-ins, the Freedom rides, and as president of SNCC—“young blood.” When it’s announced that Harry Belafonte is coming to Selma, Hosea leads everyone in a rousing version of “Banana Boat Song.” Seriously, who wouldn’t want to hang with Wendell Pierce?
Then there’s Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King (David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo). Screenwriter Paul Webb and director Ava DuVernay make them real people again. They give them a sense of intimacy. It’s hard to view a man as a saint when you’ve seen him put a plastic lining in the trash bin under the sink. Watching “Selma,” I had this obvious thought for the first time: “He really did marry up in the looks department, didn’t he?”
We get that sense of intimacy right away. It’s December 1964, and King and Coretta are in their room in Oslo, Norway, where he is about to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He’s trying to practice his speech but he spends more time fussing with his ascot. He doesn’t like it. He doesn’t like the message it sends back home. She argues for it. It’s the miniscule details of the scene, the subtle tensions, the promises he makes to her that we know (and he knows, and she knows) he won’t be able to keep: about becoming a pastor in a small church somewhere, and teaching a class, and raising their kids in a home they own rather than rent; about leading a regular life rather than leading a movement that brings death threats and the hate of half the country down on them. I was immediately won over.
Eyes on the prize
“Selma” is divided into three basic types of scenes: attempts to undercut movement leaders from outside; attempts to bolster movement leaders from within; strategizing among groups. The strategizing scenes are best.
Undercutting: The FBI spies on King, calls his house, plays sex tapes for Coretta over the phone. It tries to bring down the movement by getting between him and his wife. “That ain’t me,” he tells her, as they listen to two people in the throes. “I know,” she says quietly. “I know what you sound like.” Another humanizing moment.
The most unnecessary bolstering scene involves Coretta. Martin’s in jail, and Hosea and the others are going “uh oh” because Malcolm X just arrived in town. What will they say to him? What will he say? We don’t get that. Instead, we cut to an older black woman walking with and giving advice to Coretta. Aren’t we undercutting the drama here? We don’t even get to hear Malcolm X give the speech he gave, but at least we get to hear Martin and Coretta arguing over Malcolm X. Another nice scene.
The best bolstering scene starts out poorly. It’s after the first two Edmund Pettus bridge incidents: a police crackdown that horrified the country, and the one where MLK led everyone away from confrontation. Had he lost courage? Faith? John Lewis, still scarred from the first bridge incident, talks to him about the beating he took in the Freedom Rides. At first I didn’t buy it. Is John Lewis schooling Martin Luther King on the history of the movement? But no. He’s telling him about how, at that moment, Lewis began to lose faith, and King propped him up with a sermon. “What did I say?” MLK asks quietly. I love that. He’s forgotten, of course. For him, it was just another day; another sermon in 10 years of sermons.
Both of those types of scenes are fine; but the strategizing scenes is where the movie, and history, come alive.
A good reminder: It wasn’t just Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston) who didn’t want MLK in Selma; SNCC didn’t want him there, either. Lewis and James Orange (Omar J. Dorsey) had been in Selma two years already, working on registering voters, and the worry—and it was always a worry, of which King was painfully aware—was that MLK would come in and grab the glory and the headlines. Plus SNCC was the younger generation. It was getting tired of waiting and tired of marching. It was moving away from MLK, nonviolence, and the civil rights movement, and toward Black Power. Interestingly, in ’63, Lewis was “young blood.” He was the firebrand, demanding to say use the word “black” instead of “Negro” during his March on Washington speech. A year after the events in “Selma,” Lewis would lose the SNCC chairmanship to Stokely Carmichael for being too middle-of-the-road; for siding too much with King. You see some of this dynamic in his arguments with Orange. The movement is already fraying. Black Power will end it.
I love the way the history of the movement is subtly layered into the strategizing sessions. The protests of Albany, Ga., in 1962 didn’t work because Chief Pritchett kept his cool; they did in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 because Sheriff “Bull” Connor didn’t. So the big question for Selma: is Jim Clark a Pritchett or a Connor? Orange and Lewis admit, reluctantly, that he’s a Connor. So the SCLC stays. So the protests and marches begin.
(Related: In the Obama years, do you think the Republican party has been a Chief Pritchett or a Bull Connor? There’s a good discussion there for the GOP to have with itself; or for Roger Ailes with his self.)
As King and the movement strategizes, so do—separately—Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth) and his deputy (Stephen Root), and President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) and his (Giovanni Ribisi). The former is interested in defeating King, the latter in deflecting him. LBJ is the voice of restraint here. He’s the institutional voice saying “Wait” on voting rights.
Which I suppose brings us to the LBJ question.
A change (is gonna come)
I’ve read less about Selma than other civil rights hotspots (Montgomery, Nashville, Birmingham), but I know that when Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 he told an aide, “We’ve lost the South for a generation.” Not only was he right, he was optimistic. (It’s been two generations.) So if anything, Johnson wanted blacks in the South to vote. To give the Democratic party a chance there.
Here are two excerpts from “Eyes on the Prize,” the companion book to the seminal documentary on the civil rights movement. The first backs up the movie’s portrayal; the second doesn’t:
- “In his State of the Union address, President Johnson articulated the goal of eliminating ‘every remaining obstacle to the right and the opportunity to vote,’ but voting rights came seventh on his list of domestic priorities.” (pg. 258)
- “On the day of Malcolm X’s speech [early February 1965], President Johnson held a press conference. ... It was his first direct response to Selma and a welcome surprise to the activists. ‘I should like to say that all Americans should be indignant when one American is denied the right to vote,’ said Johnson. ‘The loss of that right to a single citizen undermines the freedom of every citizen. That is why all of us should be concerned with the efforts of our fellow Americans to register to vote in Alabama. ... I intend to see that that right is secured for all our citizens.’” (pg. 262)
At this point in the movie, DuVernay actually implies that LBJ was silently conspiring with J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) to undercut MLK via the FBI sex tapes.
Here’s DuVernay herself on the subject:
The script was the LBJ/King thing, but originally, it was much more slanted to Johnson. I wasn't interested in making a white-savior movie; I was interested in making a movie centered on the people of Selma. ... Johnson has been hailed as a hero of that time, and he was, but we're talking about a reluctant hero. He was cajoled and pushed, he was protective of a legacy—he was not doing things out of the goodness of his heart.
Goodness schmoodness. Let’s ask the Watergate question: What did the president say and when did he say it? What did the president do and when did he do it?
Here’s a transcript of LBJ strategizing with MLK on January 15, 1965, before most of the events in the movie. He hardly seems the reluctant ally DuVernay makes him.
The greater insult might be how dull she makes him. For all his faults (and there were many), LBJ was still one of the gladhandingest, craziest, talking-your-ear-off-while-he’s-sitting-on-the-crapper control freaks to ever occupy the Oval Office. He dominated rooms and people and the world. He went out of his way to control inflation. Color TVs too expensive? Talk to RCA. Egg prices up? Tell the Surgeon General to issue a warning on high cholesterol. But for most of the movie, he’s back on his heels, fretting in silence over newspaper headlines, taking guff from George Wallace of all people. George Wallace! Every report I’ve read of their meetings ends with Wallace as soft putty in LBJ’s giant hands—at least until he gets back to Alabama—but here Wallace stares down the President of the United States and doesn’t blink. Was Wilkinson wrong for the role? Was Roth? Should Southerners protest that they’re constantly being played by Brits? Maybe DuVernay just doesn’t know how to direct white people? They’re certainly the weakest part of her movie.
We shall overcome
Look, I get it. Hollywood’s been awful on the civil rights movement. It’s made heroes of historical obstructionists: the FBI in “Mississippi Burning”; southern whites in “The Help.” “Selma” is actually the first theatrical release to feature MLK as the main character. How awful is that? That it took more than 50 years to get him front and center and in the theater?
I also get that LBJ’s reluctance to go along with the Selma campaign gives the movie its dramatic structure. We spend most of the movie waiting for two things to happen: the march from Selma to Montgomery to go forward and the Voting Rights Act to get pushed through Congress. The march is stymied by troops first, and MLK second, before Judge Frank Minis Johnson (Martin Sheen) declares it lawful; then it goes. The Voting Rights Act is stymied mostly by LBJ’s reluctance; but then he has a change of heart (somewhere), gives the big speech in front of Congress, and appropriates the movement’s signature phrase: “And we shall overcome,” So: happy ending. But I think there are better—and more honest—dramatic structures. I think more could have been done, for example, on why King led the march away from the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
(Sidenote: According to movement leader C.T. Vivian, when Johnson said “We shall overcome,” Vivian looked over at Dr. King and saw a tear running down his cheek. In the movie, King is dry-eyed. Because DuVernay didn’t believe Vivian? Because dry-eyed is more dramatic? Because that’s the way DuVernay wants it to be?)
I do think some of DuVernay’s choices weakened the movie. I suppose she’ll just have to settle for directing the best film about the civil rights movement ever made.
The 2015 Césars: Kristen Stewart and the Dueling Saint Laurents
Dueling Saint Laurents: Both Gaspard Ulliel (l) in “Saint Laurent” and Pierre Niney (r) in “Yves Saint Laurent” were nominated best actor, but only Ulliel's film was nominated best film. Between them, they split four supporting nominations.
The nominees for the 40th annual Césars were announced the other day, and the big news on this side was that Kristen Stewart became the first American actress to receive a César nomination since Julia Migenes did so in “Carmen” in 1984. Me, I found it interesting that “Saint Laurent,” a biopic of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent from 1967 to 1976, received the most nominations, 10, followed closely by “Yves Saint Laurent,” a biopic of the fashion designer from 1958 onward, which received seven. The two movies don't seem to be related, either, in the way of, say, “Mesrine” a few years back. Just how much Yves can one country take? A lot, apparently.
“Les Combattants” sounds interesting to me (nine noms), while I'm there for anything Olivier Assayas directs. Seriously, if any of these films showed up at SIFF, I would be there. A Césars Night at SIFF would be fun.
The Césars will be broadcast on February 20, two days before the Oscars.
Les Combattants, dir: Thomas Cailley
Eastern Boys, dir: Robin Campillo
La Famille Bélier, dir: Eric Lartigau
Saint Laurent, dir: Bertrand Bonello
Hippocrate, dir: Thomas Lilti
Sils Maria, dir: Olivier Assayas
Timbuktu, dir: Abderrahmane Sissako
Céline Sciamma, Bande De Filles
Thomas Cailley, Les Combattants
Robin Campillo, Eastern Boys
Thomas Lilti, Hippocrate
Bertrand Bonello, Saint Laurent
Olivier Assayas, Sils Maria
Abderrahmane Sissako, Timbuktu
Pierre Niney, Yves Saint Laurent
Romain Duris, Une Nouvelle Amie
Gaspard Ulliel, Saint Laurent
Guillaume Canet, La Prochaine Fois Je Viserai Le Coeur
Niels Arestrup, Diplomatie
François Damiens, La Famille Bélier
Vincent Lacoste, Hippocrate
Juliette Binoche, Sils Maria
Catherine Deneuve, Dans La Cour
Marion Cotillard, Deux Jours, Une Nuit
Emilie Dequenne, Pas Son Genre
Adèle Haenel, Les Combattants
Sandrine Kiberlain, Elle L’Adore
Karin Viard, La Famille Bélier
|Best Supporting Actor
Eric Elmosnino, La Famille Bélier
Jérémie Renier, Saint Laurent
Guillaume Gallienne, Yves Saint LAurent
Louis Garrel, Saint Laurent
Reda Kateb, Hippocrate
|Best Supporting Actress
Marianne Denicourt, Hippocrate
Claude Gensac, Lulu Femme Nue
Izïa Higelin, Samba
Charlotte Le Bon, Yves Saint Laurent
Kristen Stewart, Sils Maria
SAG/Oscar Differences: What Do They Say About Race, Sex?
Earlier this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (the Oscars to you and me) was blasted when it released its 2014 nominations and “Selma” barely made the cut—just picture and song. Director Ava DuVernay didn't become the first black female director ever nominated, and David Oyelowo was passed over for his performance as Martin Luther King, Jr. All 20 acting nominees were white for the first time since 1998, and #OscarsSoWhite became a popular Twitter hashtag.
I shrugged. Surely there were greater Academy insults over the years: the excusion of “Do the Right Thing,” for example, or the inclusion of “Crash.” I'd also heard the “Selma” people didn't get screeners to the Academy members in time, so it all seemed less a matter of racism than a marketing SNAFU. But the outrage machine needs its outrage.
Once upon a time, sure, the Academy, along with Hollywood, wasn't exactly to black actors. Still not, but there's been improvement. These are the number of black actors who have been nominated in the four acting categories:
- 1927-2000: 37 nominations/ 6 Oscars
- 2001-2013: 29 nominations/ 9 Oscars
For the first 73 years of the Academy, black actors averaged a nomination every two years and an Oscar every 12 years. But since 2001, black actors average 2.4 nominations a year and an Oscar almost every year. For all the racism that still exists in Hollywood, the Academy, at least, seems to be making a step in the right direction.
Then I compared Oscar with SAG.
First, the Academy and the Screen Actors Guild are amazingly in sync. In the last five years, they've agreed on 18 of 20 choices. If you go back 10 years, there's a little more disagreement—but not in lead actor, where Oscar and SAG match exactly.
Here's a list of the SAG winners from the last 10 years, with the eight differences with the Academy highlighted:
|Year||Lead Actor||Lead Actress||Supporting Actor||Supporting Actress|
|2013||Matthew McConaughey||Cate Blanchett||Jared Leto||Lupita Nyong'o|
|2012||Daniel Day-Lewis||Jennifer Lawrence||Tommy Lee Jones||Anne Hathaway|
|2011||Jean Dujardin||Viola Davis||Christopher Plummer||Octavia Spencer|
|2010||Colin Firth||Natalie Portman||Christian Bale||Melissa Leo|
|2009||Jeff Bridges||Sandra Bullock||Christoph Waltz||No'Nique|
|2008||Sean Penn||Meryl Streep*||Heath Ledger||Kate Winslet*|
|2007||Daniel Day-Lewis||Julie Christie||Javier Bardem||Ruby Dee|
|2006||Forrest Whitaker||Helen Mirren||Eddie Murphy||Jennifer Hudson|
|2005||Phillip Seymour Hoffman||Reese Witherspoon||Paul Giamatti||Rachel Weisz|
|2004||Jamie Foxx||Hilary Swank||Morgan Freeman||Cate Blanchett|
*In 2008, SAG awarded Winslet best supporting for “The Reader” while she won the Oscar for best lead.
You see a pattern? In three of the eight differences, SAG chose a black actor and the Academy didn't. Davis, Dee and Murphy were thrown over for Streep (“The Iron Lady”), Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”), and Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”).
You see another pattern? This is an old one, to be sure. With actresses, the Academy has a tendency to go young and hot. For the men, it's a wash: Jim Broadbent instead of Ian McKellen, James Coburn instead of Robert Duvall. But here's a list of women who won Oscars but not SAG statuettes: Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Connelly, Juliette Binoche. It's like a Who's Who of my fantasies.
But do these patterns mean anything? I'd probably go Arkin over Murphy, too, or Swinton over Dee. With the women, are Oscar voters horny or are SAG voters xenophobic, since three of the four mentioned above are foreign actresses?
The Academy does skew old and white. You have to be asked to join the Academy. You simply have to be working to join SAG. But does this difference lead to racism and sexism? Does it ever lead to, I don't know, wisdom?
We'll see if the patterns continue into the future. In race matters, at least, they won't this year. The Academy got all the flack but in 2014 SAG didn't bother to nominate an actor of color, either. #SAGSoWhite? Or #ScreenersSoLate?
No SAG on these Oscar winners.
Quote of the Day
“The second [reason I've decided to stop blogging in the near future] is that I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again. I’m a human being before I am a writer; and a writer before I am a blogger, and although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms. I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged. I want to write long essays that can answer more deeply and subtly the many questions that the Dish years have presented to me. I want to write a book.”
Match César Nominees with IMDb Synopsis
The nominees for the 40th annual César Awards (the French Oscars, yo), were announced the other day, and the movies on the left are the choices for best film. On the right, the IMDb synopsis, shortened somewhat for space. See if you can match them.
|1. Les Combattants
||A. Benjamin is sure he will become a great doctor, but his first experience in his father's service does not turn out the way he hoped.|
|2. Eastern Boys
||B. An actress comes face-to-face with an uncomfortable reflection of herself when she takes part in a revival of the play that launched her career 20 years earlier.|
|3. La Famille Bélier
||C. A girl, who lives with her deaf-mute parents, discovers that she has the gift of singing.|
|4. Saint Laurent
||D. A cattle herder and his family find their quiet lives—typically free of Jihadists—abruptly disturbed.|
||E. Arnaud's summer looks set to be a peaceful one ... until he runs into Madeleine.|
|6. Sils Maria
||F. Yves Saint Laurent's life from 1967 to 1976, when the famed fashion designer was at the peak of his career.|
||G. Muller, a discreet man in his late fifties has his eye on Marek, but doesn't know he has fallen into a trap.|
Answers in the comments field.
Al Franken: 'To Me, That's Where God Is'
This is from a speech in 2010 at June 27, 2010, to attendees of the 2010 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
He talks about his father, the death of his father, his kids, and his coneception of God. It's funny and beautiful:
'Seahawks Outlast Packers': A Look at the Dullest NY Times Headline for the Thrillingest NFL Game
I meant to post this last week but better late than never. It's the New York Times' Jan. 18 headline/blurb for one of the most thrilling/heartbreaking championship games in the history of the NFL. The one on the right:
Outlast? How about stun? Jujitsuflip? Mindboggle? Mindfuck?
I subscribe to and root for the Times, our paper of record, to make it through the digital times we're all stuck in. But c'mon, guys. Try a little. It's the dullest hed/synopsis imaginable for the most thrilling come-from-behind, unimaginable game I've seen. It actually makes me laugh.
With 3 minutes left in the game, the Hawks were down 19-7, hadn't scored on offense (only through special teams), and FootballReference.com put their win probability at 0.1%. That's not 1%; that's point 1 percent. Which was probably higher than the percentage I was giving them. It seemed all but over to me. If I had been watching at home, I probably would've turned the game off. Thankfully I was watching at Ben's house.
With 5 minutes left, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw to Jermaine Kearse over the middle, and the ball bounced off Kearse's hands and was picked off by Morgan Burnett who ran a few yards, and then, without a Seattle player nearby, slid to the ground. The Packers were thinking it was over, too. That's what you do when it's over. You cradle the ball like it's an NFC championship trophy and slide. Safe.
But not. The Packers went three and out and suddenly the Super-Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, absent for most of the game, showed up. From their own 31, they scored in four plays. Except Marshawn Lynch was ruled out of bounds at the 9 on the 35-yard pass and run. So many of these calls went against the Hawks. It was a good call but it seemed more of the same. We just couldn't score.
Then we did—three runs later.
Before the onside kick, Ben's teenage daughter asked about onside kicks and their probabilities, and we all agreed they were fairly improbable.
Which is when the improbable happened. Then the impossible happened: run, run, pass, run, touchdown. Out of nowhere, from the depths, we were suddenly ahead by 1. Then we coverted another improbable 2-point conversion to go ahead by 3. The Packers got their field goal but they must've been stunned. They should've been walking off the field in triumph rather than heading out into the middle of it for a coin toss. We won that one, too, and started on our own 13-yard line. Four plays later it was 3rd and 7 at our own 30. Two plays later the game was over: a 35-yard pass to Doug Baldwin and a 35-yard pass to Jermaine Kearse over the middle. And Seattle, and the sports world, went crazy. Everyone went crazy except the New York Times headline writer.
Outlast. I don't think I'll ever look at that word the same way again.
See you Sunday.
Another American war movie? Nope, a Danish one: “A War” by Tobias Lindholm, the director of “A Hijacking,” and concerning Danish troops in Afghanistan. It's No. 18 on IndieWire's list but higher up on mine.
- IndieWire has a list of the 20 most anticipated foreign films of 2015. We'll see how many wind up in Seattle. No. 7, “Erran,” because it's Jacques Audiard. Much more so than their No. 1, “Flashmob,” by Michael Haneke. (WARNING: Lots of ads on the site make scrolling difficult.)
- Related: FilmStage has the 25 most anticipated movies at Sundance. Interestingly, none are the same movies. (WARNING: ditto.)
- David Simon is making an HBO miniseries about a battle over low-income housing in 1980s Yonkers, starring Oscar Isaac. He expects no one to watch. I'm there.
- I've always been fascinated with statues. Specifically: Who we choose to honor this way and why, and where. But never “And how big.” But French photographer Fabrice Foullet is interested in this last, and has created a series, Colesses, on the biggest statues in the world.
- What your friends with cancer want you to know.
- Via my father: A sharp review of “The Theory of Everything,” the Stephen Hawking biopic, by Stephen Bachman, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.
- Via Adam: People reading books on subways. I like the woman in the hajib reading Tobias Wolff's “Barracks Thief.” Everyone else likes the Strunk & White dude.
- Nicholas Kristof on the early death of his high school buddy and the empathy gap in America. For me, that gap is tied to this question: What causes success? The FOX-News answer is hard work, which means that anyone who isn't successful (including, one can argue, most of FOX News' viewers) just didn't work hard enough and thus are undeserving of our empathy. But that answer ignores so much.
- Speaking of the empathy gap: The New York Times reports that the political network overseen by the Koch brothers plans to spend $900 million in the next election, putting them on par, moneywise, with the Republican party and the Democratic party. Thank you, Justice Kennedy.
- Long read of the week: Jill LePore (again) on attempts to archive this unruly, forever disappearing beast of the Internet. Follow-up: Do we blame Tim Berners-Lee?
- Warren Sharp gets into the New England Patriots deflation scandal “Ballghazi” by looking at the team's prevention-of-fumble ratio. Guess what? It's nearly impossible.
- Josh Wilker of “Cardboard Gods” fame is posting again. Here's one on the immortality of Mario Mendoza. Wilker also has a book coming out in May on newfound father. I'm already there.
- We have a new commissioner of Major League Baseball! Yay! And on his first day in office, he mentions banning defensive shifts! Wait, what?
- From Tim Egan: With Obama, and the Seahawks last Sunday, it's how you finish.
Movie Review: Belle (2014)
Here’s how our concerns for the title character—what we and she worry about—keep shifting in “Belle.”
It’s 1761, and an impossible pretty black girl named Dido (initially Lauren Julien-Box, eventually Gugu Mbatha-Raw), is brought by her white father, Capt. Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), to his uncle’s estate in England, where slavery is still legal. Her African mother has died and Lindsay is about to go to sea again. Someone needs to care for the girl.
That’s our initial concern: Will this impossibly pretty black girl find a place to live in superwhite England, or will she be left to the wolves?
She finds a place to live. (Whew.) The reluctant aunt and uncle, Lady and Lord Mansfield (Emily Watson and Tom Wilkinson), agree to bring her up on their estate—along with her cousin, Elizabeth (Sarah Maden), whose mother has also died. So these two girls, one black and one white, grow up together—laughing and chasing each other around trees, as girls in period pieces are wont to do.
But then the increasingly engaged grandaunt and uncle worry: What happens when we die? Dido will be penniless (and left to the wolves)!
Except her father dies first. And leaves Dido his fortune. Second problem solved.
But we're still in England in the 1770s, and Dido, while impossibly pretty, is still black. No one, certainly no one in society, will be interested in her as a wife. So that’s the next worry: She’ll wind up an old maid like Lady Mary! (Lady Mary, by the way, is played by Penelope Wilton, the annoying Isobel Crawley of “Downton Abbey,” whom no one ever wants to be like.)
Except ... aha! ... a handsome man, John Davinier (Sam Reid), arrives on the estate, and he and Dido meet cute. She’s polite to everyone but him, which means, in movie terms, that she totally likes him. Plus he’s interested in the Zong case—about the destruction of property (read: slaves) aboard a ship, and what it means for insurance law, not to mention English law. Dido’s own uncle, Lord Mansfield, and the Lord Chief Justice, is the man deciding the case.
Not only that, but cousin Elizabeth, who can’t play the piano as well as Dido, is being pursued by James Ashford (Tom Felton, forever Draco Malfoy), and he’s got a taller, handsomer brother, Oliver (James Norton), who’s totally interested in Dido, and not in a creepy way, either. Which is good because Davinier impetuously blows it with Lord Mansfield and has to leave the estate forthwith. Plus Davinier is a mere vicar’s son. It never would have worked.
And there’s no need! In London, Oliver proposes marriage! So this problem is now solved. She won’t wind up an old maid like Lady Mary!
Except ... does she truly love him? Like with John Davinier? Which leads to our next and final worry: Will she wind up with the right man? Also known as: Will she find TRUE LOVE?
You can guess the ending. (She does!) Oh, and the Lord Chief Justice rules properly on the Zong case, paving the way for the eventual abolition of slavery—or at least the slave trade—in England in 1807.
I was bored throughout. The movie is glorified BBC: the heroine ascending the ladder of worries until she winds up with everything. It’s “Masterpiece Theater” with a tan.
SAG Divvies Up the 2014 Acting Awards
The second industy award has spoken. The Screen Actors Guild, or SAG, has given out its awards for, among others, film actor, actress, supporting actor and actress, as well as—unique to SAG—the cast award.
The cast award is seen as SAG's best picture, and it's often used to try to predict Oscar winners for best picture. It shouldn't. It's the least accurate: only 50 percent over 18 years. Past recepients have included “The Help,” “Inglorious Basterds,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Full Monty.” It's a whole other category.
Where SAG and the Academy agree most? Lead actor: 16 of 20, and the last 10 in a row.
Indeed, over the last five years, SAG and the Academy have matched up almost exactly:
|Lead Actor||Lead Actress||Supporting Actor||Supporting Actress|
|2013||Matthew McConaughey||Cate Blanchett||Jared Leto||Lupita Nyong'o|
|2012||Daniel Day-Lewis||Jennifer Lawrence||Tommy Lee Jones||Anne Hathaway|
|2011||Jean Dujardin||Viola Davis||Christopher Plummer||Octavia Spencer|
|2010||Colin Firth||Natalie Portman||Christian Bale||Melissa Leo|
|2009||Jeff Bridges||Sandra Bullock||Christoph Waltz||No'Nique|
Only 2012 supporting actor (Oscar: Christoph Waltz for “Django Unchained”) and 2011 lead actress (Meryl Streep for “The Iron Lady”) haven't matched, and I'd have to give it to SAG on both of them.
So get ready if you're in any Oscar pools. Here are this year's winners:
|Lead Actor||Lead Actress||Supporting Actor||Supporting Actress|
|2014||Eddie Redmayne||Julianne Moore||J.K. Simmons||Patricia Arquette|
Cast went to “Birdman.”
All are frontrunners with maybe the exception of Redmayne (many are predicting Keaton) so I could see the Academy matching this exactly. We'll know in a month.
Box Office: 'American Sniper' at $200 Million, Sets Sights on Katniss and Biggest Hit of the Year
Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to buy and buy.
We’ve been asking the wrong question with “American Sniper.” Instead of asking “Can it win best picture?” we should be asking, “Can it be the biggest box office hit of 2014”?
This weekend, Eastwood’s superpatriotic flick dropped only 27.9% for a $64 million haul. That’s the 8th-best second weekend (or “second” weekend, since “AS” opened in four theaters in late December) in movie history, behind such movies as “The Avengers,” “Avatar,” and “The Dark Knight.” In fact, with the exception of “Iron Man 3,” every one of the movies with a better second weekend went on to become the biggest box office hit of its respective year.
According to Box Office Mojo, “American Sniper” is now at $200 million. The No. 1 movie of 2014, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1,” which just surpassed “The Guardians of the Galaxy,” is at $334 million. By its second weekend, “THGMP1” was at $225 million, but it had fallen by 53%, then fell another 61% in the third weekend. So if “American Sniper” can keep from falling at those levels, it'll do it.
Pretty stunning. I didn’t think “AS” would do $50 million and now it’s going to be the biggest hit of Clint Eastwood’s career. Actually it already is. Some day I’d like to read how Warner Bros. handled the rollout strategy. There’s a story there beyond showing people what they want to see.
I should be happy about this, by the way. A serious film will be the biggest hit of the year! When was the last time that happened? Something, in other words, that isn’t superheroes or cartoons or sci-fi fantasy? You’d have to go back all the way to 1998 when another war film, Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” was the biggest hit of the year.
So I should be happy. Except how serious is “American Sniper”? I’d argue that it overlays a reductive Hollywood formula upon our most serious subject: the war on terror. I’d argue it’s doing as well as it is because it’s giving people the Iraq War they (and Pres. Bush) always imagined they’d fight, rather than the complicated one we wound up fighting. In “Saving Private Ryan,” one of the characters ironically recites Tennyson: “Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die,” but in “American Sniper” that’s actually the movie—unironically. “American Sniper” doesn’t reason why. (My review here.)
Even so, what a fascinating few weeks at the box office. You can’t tell me Clint Eastwood isn’t hanging somewhere grinning over this. His late entry has stirred the pot again.
In other box office news, Jennifer Lopez had her best opening since “Monster in Law” in 2005, as “The Boy Next Door” (hot sex leads to stalking, per Hollywood) opened to $15 million and second place. The George Lucas-written cartoon “Strange Magic” had none, managing only $5 million in 3,020 theaters, while Johnny Depp’s latest foppish adventure, “Mortdecai,” flopped, grossing just $4 million. His reign is over.
Quote of the Day
“All these films have a believable voice and would not exist if there were not an [individual] expression behind them. And only the people who made it could have made it; they were not designed as products but as real expressions of human emotions.”
--Alejandro G. Iñárritu, accepting the Producers Guild of America award for best film of 2014, and talking about the other talent in the room—specifically, one imagines, Richard Linklater's “Boyhood,” Wes Anderson's “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Bennet Miller's “Foxcatcher,” Damien Chazelle's “Whiplash” and Dan Gilroy's “Nightcrawler.” Pretty much my feelings. Some have complained that 2014 was a weak year for movies but I think the opposite. Even better, those films have been recognized not just by critics but by the industry, which tends to recognize and reward corporate products.
And the Producers Guild of America Award Goes to ...
Most of the pundits assumed “Boyood.” Maybe because the critics awards generally went to “Boyhood.”
The PGAs, for what it's worth, often presage Oscar's best picture winner. At least they have 17.5 times out of 25:
|Year||PGA: Best Picture|
|2013||Gravity/12 Years a Slave|
|2010||The King's Speech|
|2009||The Hurt Locker|
|2007||No Country for Old Men|
|2006||Little Miss Sunshine|
|2003||Lord of the Rings: Return of the King|
|1998||Saving Private Ryan|
|1996||The English Patient|
|1992||The Crying Game|
|1991||The Silence of the Lambs|
|1990||Dances with Wolves|
|1989||Driving Miss Daisy|
SAG is tomorrow night, the DGAs take place on February 7. And if you're wondering if a film has ever won the PGA and DGA and not the Oscar, the answer is yes: three times. In 1995, the GAs went for “Apollo 13” (instead of “Braveheart”), in '98 for “Saving Private Ryan” (instead of “Shakespeare in Love”) and in 2005 for “Brokeback Mountain” (instead of You Know What.) Each time, I'd argue, Oscar blew it.
The PGAs went a different route than the Academy in two other movie categories this year. For best animated feature, it chose “The LEGO Movie,” which the Academy failed to nominate. And in best documentary, it went with “Life Itself,” about the life and times of Roger Ebert, which ditto.
Quote of the Day
“Many have written him off. ... The president’s proposals 'are so out of touch you have to ask if there’s any point to the speech,' said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
”But if you look beyond capital gasbags, and consider the big ideas in Obama’s speech, you can see the inevitability of his philosophy. His proposals — raising the minimum wage, paid maternity leave, making college more affordable and the tax system more fair — are popular across the political divide. They’re mainstream anywhere but the fund-raisers that Reince Priebus presides over.“
-- Timothy Egan, writing about my president in the fourth quarter, and my Seattle Seahawks in last Sunday's fourth quarter, in the New York Times Op-Ed, ”It's How You Finish."
Ernie Banks (1931-2015)
Ernie Banks missed his 84th birthday by a week. He was born January 31, 1931, and died yesterday, January 23, 2015, on my father’s 83rd birthday.
Has Banks’ legacy been reduced to three words? “Let’s play two!” he’d say, and mean it. Maybe it was 10 words: “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame: Let’s play two!” Those aren’t bad words to be remembered by. Most Americans want to be cool but engaged is better. Enthusiasm is more fun.
He was at the end of his career when I first began watching baseball, and in the other league from my Minnesota Twins, but I knew he was the last guy to hit 500 homeruns before Harmon Killebrew did. Banks was ninth in baseball history (in May 1970), Killebrew 10th (August 1971). Banks would stop at 512.
He never went to the World Series; playing for no other team than the Cubs will do that to you. He was probably the greatest player never to make the World Series until this latest round of great, bereft players: Rod Carew (Twins, Angels); Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners, Reds). My guys.
I’ve spent part of the day looking over Banks’ lifetimes stats at BaseballReference.com. He remained thin and lanky to the end but apparently was never fast. He got caught stealing (53 times) more than he stole (50). His lifetime batting average wasn’t great (.274), nor his lifetime OBP (.330). His lifetime slugging percentage didn’t quite topple from its lofty perch (.500).
If he was a revelation at shortstop, a power-hitting, Gold-Glove MVP, he was a mediocre first basemen during the second half of his career. Here’s his line at short: .292/.355/.562 with 264 homers. And at first: .259/.307/.447 with 207 homers. Joe Posnanski’s written about this before—in a piece in which he declared Banks the 55th greatest player of all time.
How many times did he live up to the quote and play two? Someone must know. In his last season, 1971, the Cubs played the usual number of doubleheaders but Mr. Cub always sat out one of the games. Too old anymore to play two. His last real doubleheader was on July 4, 1970, just before the All-Star break, against Roberto Clemente’s Pirates. Banks went 1-4 and 1-5. The Cubs lost the first, won the second.
His last game in the Majors? Sept. 26, 1971, a Sunday. Banks batted fourth. In the 1st inning, two quick outs followed a leadoff single; then Banks singled and Ron Santo followed with a single to plate a run; Banks went to second. After a walk loaded the bases, Don Kessinger grounded out, stranding Banks at third. In the 3rd, Banks drew a walk around several outs, and would never get on base again. Grounder in the sixth, infield popup in the eighth. Cubs lost 5-1 to the hapless Phillies. The Cubs played another series in Montreal but Banks didn’t. He ended his career in the friendly confines.
In 1977, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 83% of the vote. Besides the inaugural Hall of Famers (Ruth, Cobb, Mathewson, Johnson, Wagner), and the special cases (Gehrig, Clemente), Banks was just the eighth man in baseball history to be elected to the Hall on the first ballot. Last year, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Pres. Obama—just the ninth baseball player to receive that honor.
Here’s the first reference to Banks in the New York Times. It’s from Sept. 1953:
Here’s the last.
The Best #SOTU Ever?
Patrica and I went to dinner last night for my birthday so I missed Pres. Obama's State of the Union address and didn't get to watch it until tonight. Holy crap, is that good. It's a thing of beauty. I don't even know what my favorite part was. This challenge to Congress on minimum wage maybe?
Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages. That's why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It's 2015. It's time. We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they've earned. And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.
This subtle slam on the chest-beating of the Roger Aileses of the world?
Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin's aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters. That's how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.
This bit on global warming and the doofuses who want to ignore global warming?
2014 was the planet's warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn't make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.
I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists; that we don't have enough information to act. Well, I'm not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.
This admission and cause for optimism?
You know, just over a decade ago, I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn't a liberal America, or a conservative America; a black America or a white America — but a United States of America. I said this because I had seen it in my own life, in a nation that gave someone like me a chance; because I grew up in Hawaii, a melting pot of races and customs; because I made Illinois my home — a state of small towns, rich farmland, and one of the world's great cities; a microcosm of the country where Democrats and Republicans and Independents, good people of every ethnicity and every faith, share certain bedrock values.
Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn't delivered on this vision. How ironic, they say, that our politics seems more divided than ever. It's held up as proof not just of my own flaws — of which there are many — but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, and naïve, and that there are too many people in this town who actually benefit from partisanship and gridlock for us to ever do anything about it.
I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong. I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.
This call for a new type of politics?
I know many of you well. There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle. And many of you have told me that this isn't what you signed up for — arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision. Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different.
I've said it before and I'll say it again and I'll keep saying it until I'm dead in my grave: My president.
Jellybean Answers the #CatJumpFail Videos
This is one of those #CatJumpFail videos I see from time to time on my Facebook feed:
This is my cat Jellybean. She is part Maine Coon, part domestic longhair:
And this is Jellybean answering those #CatJumpFail videos (there are a few subtitles):
The Most Seattle Moment Ever
Announcer: Hey Michael Bennett! You and the Seattle Seahawks just won the NFC Championship Game! What do you plan to do now?
Michael Bennett: I'm gonna ride my bike!
Apparently it was a bike cop's bike. He just took it. He said when you go to the Super Bowl in Seattle you get to do what you want, and that's pretty much right.
The game yesterday was the craziest, most unbelievable, most beautiful game I‘ve ever seen. I can’t remember a great team looking so bad for 55 minutes and so invincible for six. Everyone today in Seattle feels like they just won something. We‘re all hoisting Oscars aloft. We all want to thank our parents, and God, and Marshawn Lynch.
I grew up in Minneapolis and became a football fan in the early 1970s when Fran Tarkenton led the Minnesota Vikings. That was a great team that lost three Super Bowls in four years but the toughest loss from was the year we didn’t go to the Super Bowl, 1975, when we lost in the first round to the Dallas Cowboys and the “Hail Mary” pass from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson. No flag? What was that orange thing flying across the screen? (Turns out it was an orange peel.) But surely, surely, offensive interference. Nope. Nothing. Just stunned silence. Just an awful emptiness inside. I remember afterwards walking down 54th street in the cold and dim light of late December to Salk Drugs and just staring at the candy counter, and hearing some guy nonchalantly mentioning the Vikings loss, like it was no big deal, and hating, hating, hating.
I stopped watching football before I graduated high school in 1981 (the Super Bowl now and again) but I‘ve been keeping track of the Seahawks this year. To me, yesterday’s game, the impossble come-from-behind victory, almost had the feeling of catharsis.
- Grantland: Packers-Seahawks Go Full WTF in NFC Championship Game
- The KIRO radio call of the final play of the game (NSFW)
- The postgame Seattle Times article
- Jayson Jenks on the emotions of the game
- Richard Sherman's injury? Apparently the ulnar nerve. But he says he'll play in the Super Bowl
America Celebrates MLK Weekend by Flocking to 'American Sniper' in Record Numbers
On Thursday I participated in a discussion on Nathaniel Roger’s Film Experience site about interesting stats on the Oscar nominations, and for me it was all about box office. Its lack. The highest grossing best picture nominee, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” was only the 53rd highest-grossing movie of the year, and I didn’t see that changing. Someone else immediately piped up: “‘American Sniper’ could easily gross over $100 million.”
The last Clint Eastwood movie to gross more than $100 million was “Gran Torino,” which he starred in. Before that, it was “Million Dollar Baby,” which he co-starred in. None of the others since 2004 have broken $50 million.
Iraq War movies don’t do well at the box office, either.
“American Sniper” could be different. But I doubt it.
When I’m wrong, I’m wrong.
Expanding from four theaters to 3,555, Eastwood’s movie not only set a January box office record with a $90 million haul, it will easily become the highest-grossing movie of his career. Right now that’s “Gran Torino,” which grossed $148 million in 2008. “Sniper” might even surpass Eastwood’s biggest adjusted-for-inflation movie: “Every Which Way But Loose,” at $294 million.
More, it’s the biggest weekend of any winter movie, surpassing Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” which grossed $83 million in 2004.
“Sniper” obviously shares with “Passion” a conservative pedigree that brought out non-traditional moviegoers and stunned folks like me. I’m curious how Warner Bros. did it. Gibson relied on very public battles with folks, notably Frank Rich, before the movie opened, but I don’t think I’ve heard a peep from Eastwood. Was Chris Kyle’s book a best-seller? Or were folks just ready for an unapologetic movie about the war in Iraq and the greatest country on earth?
The early estimates for director Clint Eastwood’s pro-War On Terror masterpiece “American Sniper” hovered around $40 million. Obviously our provincial box office gurus under-estimated the American people’s desire to see their warriors, wars, and country properly honored and honestly portrayed. In its wide-release debut, the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is estimated to hit $75 million.
God, family and country are box office bonanzas.
Race-hoaxes are box office embarrassments.
Gee, who would have ever guess that?
“Race hoaxes,” by the way, are Nolte’s words for “Selma,” the movie about MLK and the Voting Rights Act, which was dismissed by the Oscars on Thursday and now by moviegoers this weekend. It expanded to 2,235 theater but managed only $8.3 million and fifth place. On MLK weekend, Americans would rather see (12 times over) a movie about a man of war rather than a man of peace. Plus ca change.
They’d also rather see a silly comedy (Kevin Hart’s “The Wedding Ringer,” $21 million), a good British kids movie (“Paddington,” $19 million), and the second weekend of a Liam Neeson shoot-em-up (“Taken 3,” $14 million).
What didn’t they want to see? Michael Mann’s “Blackhat,” starring Chris Hemsworth, which grossed only $4 million in 2,567 theaters. Its themes of computer terrorism and global hacking are perhaps too close to the headlines, and what people fear, to provide the proper escapist fantasy.
Not “Sniper.” That’s the perfect escapist fantasy for a country that can’t get enough of it. My review here.
Enjoy MLK weekend.
Movie Review: American Sniper (2014)
Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” doesn’t believe in gray areas. It’s about God, country and family. It’s about protecting your own, and the greatest country on earth, and taking down the bad guys. Maybe even a record number of them.
At one point, on the second tour of Iraq for Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, Kyle greets his younger brother, Jeff (Kier O’Donnell), a skinny dude who is about to be shipped back home. But something’s off. Jeff has a thousand-yard stare, and eventually he tells his bigger, beefier brother, “Fuck this place.” Soon after, Chris is talking to another soldier, who tells him, “I just don’t believe in what we’re doing here.” Chris is stunned. “You want these fuckers to come to San Diego or New York?” he asks. “We’re more than just protecting dirt.” So off they go. To kill more savages.
Now, you could bring up the fact that these fuckers in Iraq weren’t going anywhere until we arrived and toppled Saddam, and allowed anarchy to break loose, and al Qaeda to move in, and ... Sorry. Gray area. The movie isn’t any more complicated than that.
For whom was the war more complicated? Pat Tillman, for one. An NFL football player with a lantern jaw, he joined the U.S. Army after the attacks of 9/11 with the hope of fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Instead, he wound up fighting an insurgency we created in Iraq—a war which Tillman regarded as illegal. That’s not a thought that enters the mind of Chris Kyle, not to mention Eastwood. In “American Sniper” we have to be in Iraq because that’s where evil men—“savages” in the language of the SEALs—do evil deeds. That’s why we’re going door-to-door in bombed-out cities. And that’s why Chris is on a rooftop with gun trained: to protect his fellow soldiers. He has milliseconds to decide whether or not to kill not only bad men but women and children.
Psst: He’s never wrong.
It’s a helluva thing killing a man
What an interesting career Clint Eastwood has had. Forty years ago, he was a darling of conservatives everywhere, and a fascist in the eyes of movie critics like Pauline Kael, for his portrayal of trigger-happy and Miranda-rights-dismissing lawman Dirty Harry Callahan. Twenty years ago, he became a celebrated Oscar-winning director for his somber, violence-begets-violence western “Unforgiven.” Ten years ago, he actually became an enemy to the pro-life right for the sad, euthanasia-ish ending of “Million Dollar Baby.” More recently, he starred in and narrated a Chrysler commercial trumpeting the return of Detroit, orchestrated by Pres. Obama, then showed up at the 2012 Republican convention to dismiss Obama as an empty chair.
Now he’s a hero of the right again. He’s recreated the Iraq War in the Hollywood mould, which is, one imagines, how Pres. Bush, and many pro-war conservatives, imagined it in the first place. Eastwood even manages to put a positive spin on the phrase “Mission accomplished.” No small feat.
The great lesson for Chris begins early, when his father, Wayne (Ben Reed), takes him hunting. His father is stern (never leave your gun in the ground), but complimentary (you’ll make a good hunter some day), and then at the dinner table, when younger brother Jeff shows up with a black eye, he lays it all out for the boys.
There are three types of people in the world, he says, and lists them:
- Sheep (victims, essentially)
- Wolves (bullies, essentially)
- Sheep dogs (those who protect the victims from the bullies)
I don’t raise sheep, he says.
You begin to raise a finger, a counterpoint, that none of us are any one thing, and that sheep dogs, for example, have a troubling tendency to spill over into wolves territory. But then you realize: Eastwood. “Don’t Mess with Texas.” Screw your gray area, Brainiac.
In 1998, after the al-Qaeda-orchestrated U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, Kyle joins the SEALS, and we get some brutal training footage, as well as a not-bad meeting and romance with his eventual wife, Taya (Sienna Miller, going brunette). Then 9/11. As the SEALs say, “It’s ON!”
Kyle quickly gets a rep as a sharp-shooter. Eventually he’s known simply as “The Legend.” He kills a young boy, about to throw a rocket-propelled grenade at Kyle’s fellow soldiers, then takes down the woman (the boy’s mother?), who was definitely trying to blow up the men. He keeps killing bad men with big guns, then grows weary of rooftop patrol and goes door-to-door with other SEALs and Marines.
When he gets home, he can’t adjust. It’s like the supermarket scene in “The Hurt Locker” but more protracted, and with more complaints from the Mrs. Then he returns to Iraq. Did he re-up? Was it stop-loss? Who knows? There’s an expert sniper on the Iraq side, Mustafa (Sammy Sheik), who pins down Kyle, kills this and that guy, and becomes the bête noir: Kill this guy, it’s implied, and the war will go right.
At home after the third tour, Taya tells him, “I need you to be human again.” (But we don’t, since the inhuman hero is an action-movie staple.) She tells him, “I need you to be here.” (But we want him to be there, since that’s where the story is.)
It’s on his fourth and final tour that Kyle kills Mustafa—with an impossible, slow-mo shot from a mile away. “Mission accomplished,” a fellow soldier says with a grin and no trace of irony. Then Kyle returns home, has trouble, adjusts, becomes a good husband and father again, and ... tragedy off-screen.
We all got it coming, kid
Apparently the real Chris Kyle wasn’t as conflicted as Bradley Cooper’s cinematic version. He might not have been as humble, either. In the movie he’s the perfect man for imperfect times: tough but polite, witty with women, gentle but firm with kids, conflicted about killing, but in the end mostly interested in protecting the greatest country on earth. He carries the Bible and believes in God and Jesus Christ.
The script by Jason Hall (“Spread,” “Paranoia”), and based upon Chris Kyle’s book of the same name, is often witty. Early, Jeff and Chris witness Chris’ girl cheating on him, and after Chris beats up the dude, and quietly but firmly kicks out the histrionic girl, Jeff asks, “So when’s the wedding?” During SEALs training, the men are lambasted as “Cheetos-eating and Dr. Pepper-drinking motherfuckers,” which drew an appreciative laugh from the popcorn-munching and Coke-drinking folks at Pacific Place. After one tour, Kyle comes home and wonders where the war is. “It’s not even on the news,” he says. After another, he stares into the blank TV set while the noises of the war resound in his head.
“American Sniper” is an unapologetic portrait of an unapologetic man, and in that regard it’s kind of fascinating. Even so, I was often bored. Nothing is questioned (most particularly: why Iraq?) because answers are assumed (sheep/wolves/sheepdog). The world is actually more complicated than that, and to assume otherwise can be dangerous. Pres. Bush didn’t believe in gray areas, either.
The Remarkable Symmetry of Bennett Miller's Films, Nominations
I was thinking about this as I lay in bed this morning. Yeah, I know. I used to think about better things in bed.
But there is a remarkable symmetry to Bennett Miller's films/Oscar nominations:
- Miller has made three feature-length films in his career.
- Each title is one word with three syllables: Capote, Moneyball, Foxcatcher.
- Each has received a nomination for best film (Moneyball) best director (Foxcatcher) or both (Capote).
- Each has received a nomination for lead actor (Hoffman, Pitt, Carell).
- Each has received a nomination in a supporting acting category (Keener, Hill, Ruffalo).
- Each has been nominated for screenplay.
Here's the chart:
“Moneyball” also got nominated for editing and sound mix, “Foxcatcher” for makeup.
The final similarity? Save Hoffman in 2005, nobody wins. Which, yes, fits with his movies, in which his leads win but lose (Capote), lose but win (Moneyball), or try to buy winning and lose everything (Foxcatcher).
Unsurprisingly, the middle one had the best box office.
Lancelot Links: Special Oscar Nominations Edition
Nicest surprise? Marion Cotillard getting the call for “Deux Jours, Une Nuit.”
- Michael C. at Film Experience asks a good question: Why Wes, Why Now?
- Mark Harris at Grantland asks a different question: Why Not Selma? And no, he says, it's not that reason.
- Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere tells the other Oscar pundits, “Told ya so!” over Marion Cotillard's nomination.
- Don't forget to vote for your choice for best director.
- Same site: Nathaniel on his five stages of grief via the noms. Mostly, it's about “Selma.” I particularly like stage 2.
- “Life Itself” was one of the big snubs but Chaz Ebert, Roger's widow, who was also rooting on Ana DuVarnay for best director, is magnanimous.
- Director Phil Lord, whose “The LEGO Movie” was shockingly absent from best animated feature, gets a laugh out of it.
- Meanwhile “Force Majeure” director Ruben Ostlund, and his producer Erik Hemmendorf, are a little more emotional about being snubbed.
- Speaking of emotional, Sasha Stone of Awards Daily is a little so in her piece “Just Make Us Look Good,” playing the race and gender cards rather quickly and chastising the Academy for tepid choices as if it were new. She also needs an editor. (I know: pot, kettle.)
- Did you know there's a #OscarsSoWhite hashtag on Twitter? A lot of outrage out there. Misdirected I think. #OscarsSoOscar would be more apt. And if you're going to complain that the 20 nominees in acting are white, give us an idea (beyond David Oyelowo) who should replace whom.
- More and more, I'm in agreement with Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeff Wells on the subject. Well, a bit. “Mississippi Burning” still burns me. I've read too much about the civil rights movement and J. Edgar Hoover to go and make heroes of the FBI in Mississippi in 1964. Seriously: fuck that.
- Related: all the movies and filmmakers and artists and artisans that didn't get the nom I thought they deserved. Ah, but all of those that did.
Quote of the Day
“Ava DuVernay (Selma), who would have been the first woman of color nominated for Best Director, should have been among the five Best Director nominees. She handled a large scale historical film and made it reverberate with danger, grief, inspiration, courage, and immediacy which is more than can be said for most historical epics. And it's only her third film! Can't wait to see what number four is like. As a subset of this stage of grief: anger. The Oscar nominations are just another reminder that Oscar does not value female narratives, not behind the scenes or onscreen. Movies about men trying to find themselves, or redemption or triumph over adversity score. Movies about women or people of color doing the same things do not (see: Wild and Selma, this year and examples in many other years; Oscar is a boys club).”
-- Nathaniel Rogers, “The Five Stages of Grief via Oscar Nominations.”
The Best Picture Nominees by Rotten Tomatoes Score
Via Rotten Tomatoes:
|The Grand Budapest Hotel||92%||9|
|The Imitation Game||90%||8|
|The Theory of Everything||79%||5|
The worst rated best picture nominee I can remember is “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” from two years ago. It was rotten at 46%.
Every best picture winner in recent years has been ranked 92-98%. The last best picture winner to rank below 90% was “Crash” in 2005: 75%.
“Selma”: highest rated, least nominations.
The Bad Box Office of the Best Picture Nominees
There are a lot of stories making the rounds about this year's Oscar nominations. Both “American Sniper” and “Mr. Turner” did surprisingly well while “Selma” was all but denied. As was “The LEGO Movie.” As was “Life Itself,” the documentary about the life and death of film critic Roger Ebert. But then its director Steve James also directed the hugely acclaimed “Hoop Dreams,” which went unnominated in the documentary category in 1994. So ... fool me twice, I guess.
But for me, the big story is still the box office. Its lack.
Here are your eight best picture candidates, their domestic box office totals, and their widest distributions:
|The Grand Budapest Hotel||$59.1||1,467|
|The Imitation Game||$42.0||1,566|
|The Theory of Everything||$26.0||1,220|
Reminder: in 2009 the Academy broke a 60-plus-year tradition and expanded its best picture candidates from five to 10 mostly because popular movies weren't getting nominated and people were turning away from the Oscar broadcast. The Academy didn't want to become marginalized. Thus: 10 nominees. Then five to 10.
And it seemed to work.
In 2009, the Academy nominated five pictures that grossed more than $100 million domestic, including Nos. 1, 5 and 8 on the year (“Avatar,” “Up” and “The Blind Side”). In 2010, five more with more than $100 mil, including Nos. 1 and 6 on the year (“Toy Story 3” and “Inception”). 2011 was a step back: just one with > $100 mil domestic, “The Help,” which was the 13th most popular movie of the year. In 2012, six movies breached $100 million, but none higher than 13th: Spielberg's “Lincoln.” Last year? Four, including the sixth-highest-grossing film, “Gravity.”
And this year? The highest-grossing film topped out at $59 million and 53rd place for the year.
It's actually worse in the acting categories. The highest-grossing film in Best Actor is “Imitation Game” at $42 million; in Best Supporting Actor, it's “The Judge” at $47. Rosamund Pike's “Gone Girl” ($167) and Meryl Streep's “In the Woods” ($106 and climbing) at least get us over the $100 million mark, but they're the only two among the 20 acting candidates. Everythign else is below $50 million.
This will change, obviously, but by how much? “Into the Woods” will do better but not because of Oscar. I could see “Imitation Game” gaining some moviegoers. Will they expand “Birdman”? Will they re-release “Whiplash”? Are people psyched to see “American Sniper” now? Will its distributor let folks outside NYC and LA see it?
It's a bit worrisome. In 2009, when the Academy expanded its best picture category, I created the following to chart to indicate why it had done so:
The Annual Box Office Rankings for Best Picture Nominees, 1991-2008*
||BPN BO rank
||BPN BO rank
||BPN BO rank
||BPN BO rank
||BPN BO rank
* Best picture winner represented in red.
Then for comparison's sake, I added this one.
||BPN BO rank
||BPN BO rank
||BPN BO rank
||BPN BO rank
||BPN BO rank
Here's this year's nominees:
Yes, I'm concerned that the stories we share these days tend to be cartoonish; that there are fewer and fewer serious stories that we all know and care about. I think this is helping an increasingly fragmented and polarized society become more so.
But mostly I'm worried about what the Academy might do to rectify the situation. Particularly if the ratings tank on Feb. 22.
Among the nominees, Wes Anderson was most popular at the box office. It's a position he's never been in before.
Hurriedly Handicapping Best Picture: Are We Down to 4, 3 or 2?
The likeliest candidates. But one of these things is not like the others.
Before the nominations came out, I thought we were down to four candidates for best picture: “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game.” So where are we now that the Academy has released the Kraken?
Here are the Academy's eight nominees for best picture, along with nominations in other relevant categories:
|The Grand Budapest Hotel||x||x||x||9|
|The Imitation Game||x||x||x||2||8|
|The Theory of Everything||x||2||5|
It's rare when a movie wins best picture without its director being nominated (although it happened two years ago with Ben Affleck and “Argo”), so we do seem down to those four.
However, it's even rarer when a movie wins best picture without its editor being nominated (last time: “Ordinary People” in 1980). So if that's the case, then we're down to three.
Screenplay is a wash. It eliminates nothing save “Selma,” which is nominated nowhere else but song. Acting matters since the Academy is mostly made up of actors, and that favors “Birdman,” with three, over “Grand Budapest” with zero. (Although two films this century, “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008 and “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” in 2003, won best pic without an acting nomination.)
Let's look at that recent history. These are the nominations for each year's best picture winner this century:
|Year||Movie||Director||Edit||Scrnply||Acting||Total noms||Most noms?|
|2013||12 Years a Slave||x||x||x||3||9|
|2010||The King's Speech||x||x||x||3||12||x|
|2009||The Hurt Locker||x||x||x||1||9||x|
|2007||No Country for Old Men||x||x||x||1||8||x|
|2004||Million Dollar Baby||x||x||x||3||7|
|2003||Lord of the Rings: Return of the King||x||x||x||0||11||x|
|2001||A Beautiful Mind||x||x||x||2||8|
I was surprised that “Most noms” is a meaningless category—just six of 14 this century—but it helps to be at least near the top. Last year, both “Gravity” and “American Hustle” had 10 noms, one more than “12 Years.” “Lincoln” had 12 in 2012 (not a bad slogan, actually), while “The Artist” was only one off of “Hugo”'s total of 11 nominations in 2011.
So what does it all mean?
Under normal circumstances, the lack of an editing nomination should end “Birdman”'s chances. Except voters may give it a pass since it's essentially one long single shot. It's an actors' movie, almost like a play (hence the three acting nominations), and the Academy's acting body should appreciate that.
“Boyhood” has fewer overall noms, but it's got director, editing, two acting, and, perhaps most importantly, heart.
“The Imitation Game” has all its nominations in a nice, neat row. It's just not a very good movie. It's also the most conventional among the four. “Grand Budapest” is two-dimensional, Andersony and funny, “Boyhood” is episodic and took 12 years to make, “Birdman” is pungent, attacks Hollywood for giving awards “for cartoons and pornography” and ends with a question mark.
My thought? We're down to three. “Birdman,” “Boyhood” and “Imitation Game.”
My hope? That 12 years of work, and a lot of heart, give “Boyhood” the win.
My fear? The unconventional voters will split among the American indies, allowing the lesser film, “Imitation Game,” to win.
We'll find out Feb. 22.
The 2014 Oscar Nominations: Honesty and Popular Don't Go Hand in Hand
Announcing the actresses: Adams out, Cotillard in. C'mon, Marion/ It's time that we began ...
Just when you thought the Oscars were going populist, they pull themselves back out.
In 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences expanded its best picture category from five to 10 (and soon after, anywhere from five to 10), in part, it was believed, because the broadcast, and thus the award, was losing popularity. Big box office hits weren't getting nominated; people tuned out. Thus the expansion. And immediate paydirt! “Avatar,” the biggest hit of 2009, was nom'ed, as was “Toy Story 3,” the biggest box-office hit of 2010. But was this partly an illusion? Would these movies have been nominated anyway? Was it a last gasp of a melding of critically acclaimed and popular? Because the following year, 2011, the biggest hit among the nominees was “The Help,” which topped out at 13th, and in 2012 it was “Lincoln,” which also topped out at 13th. Last year, yes, “Gravity,” the sixth-biggest box office hit of 2013, was nominated. But this year we're definitely back to square one.
Among the eight best picture nominees, the one at the top of the box-office chart is “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which grossed $59 million and isn't even among the 50 most popular movies of the year. (It's 53rd.) That's right, Wes Anderson is most popular—a title I'm sure he never thought he'd ever be able to claim.
In fact, the total domestic gross of the eight nominees, $203 million, is less than the total domestic grosss of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” ($208 million), which was only the 10th highest-grossing film of the year.
So here we are again. Just us cinephiles.
Is it better this way? Could any popular movie have been nominated? “Guardians of the Galaxy” maybe? (Right. Sci-fi.) “Captain America”? (Right. Superhero.) “Interstellar”? “Gone Girl”? “The LEGO Movie”? Hey, how about this? “LEGO,” the fourth highest-grossing movie of the year, and highly critically acclaimed, didn't even get nominated in Best Animated Feature.
The Academy went white and male, too. That's the spin you'll probably hear about more. “Selma” was shut out except for picture and song. Its director, Ana DuVarney, didn't get nominated, nor did its lead, David Oyelowo. Nothing for Angelina Jolie as director for “Unbroken” nor Gillian Flynn for best adapted screenplay for “Gone Girl.”
But the obvious follow-up: Should they have been nominated?
I admit I wasn't a big fan of “Gone Girl.” I could see either DuVarney or Oyelowo among the nominees, but both are crowded fields. Oyelowo certainly would've gotten my vote.
Here's the good news: the big winners are two of the best movies of the year: “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” each got nine nominations. “Imitation Game” wound up with eight (really?) while “Boyhood” got six.
The surprise winner was “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood's late entry into the conversation, which tied “Boyood” with six nominations, include picture, actor, adapted screenplay and editing. Oddly, its most prominent figure, director Eastwood, didn't get nominated.
A pattern, AMPAS? Let's look.
- “American Sniper”
- “The Grand Budapest Hotel“
- ”The Imitation Game“
- ”The Theory of Everything“
- Wes Anderson ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
- A.G. Iñárritu ”Birdman“
- Richard Linklater ”Boyhood“
- Bennet Miller, ”Foxcatcher“
- Morten Tyldum ”The Imitation Game“
- Steve Carell, ”Foxcatcher“
- Bradley Cooper, ”American Sniper“
- Benedict Cumberbatch, ”The Imitation Game“
- Michael Keaton ”Birdman“
- Eddie Redmayne ”The Theory of Everything“
- Marion Cotillard, ”Deux Jours, Une Nuit“
- Felicity Jones ”The Theory of Everything“
- Julianne Moore ”Still Alice“
- Rosamund Pike ”Gone Girl“
- Reese Witherspoon ”Wild“
MISSING: Golden Globes winner Amy Adams for ”Big Eyes.“
- Patricia Arquette ”Boyhood“
- Laura Dern, ”Wild“
- Keira Knightley ”The Imitation Game“
- Emma Stone ”Birdman“
- Meryl Streep ”Into the Woods“
MISSING: Jessica Chastain for ”A Most Violent Year.“ Which hasn't played anywhere yet. Glad to see Dern there. Knightley? Please.
- Robert Duvall, ”The Judge“
- Ethan Hawke, ”Boyhood“
- Edward Norton, ”Birdman“
- Mark Ruffalo, ”Foxcatcher“
- JK Simmons, ”Whiplash“
- Wes Anderson ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
- E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, ”Foxcatcher“
- Dan Gilroy, ”Nightcrawler“
- A.G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, ”Birdman“
- Richard Linklater, ”Boyhood“
- Paul Thomas Anderson, ”Inherent Vice“
- Damien Chazelle, ”Whiplash“
- Jason Hall, ”American Sniper“
- Anthony McCarten, ”The Theory of Everything“
- Graham Moore, ”The Imitation Game“
Still don't understand the lack of Nick Hornby love. That's a tough adaptation. Still don't get the Graham Moore love. ”Imitation Game“ was at best a cookie-cutter biopic. Ditto ”Theory of Everything.“ But I'm happy to see Paul Thomas Anderson in there. Not to mentin Mr. Chazelle.
- ”Big Hero 6“
- ”The Boxtrolls“
- ”How to Train Your Dragon 2“
- ”Song of the Sea“
- ”The Tale of the Princess Kaguya“
MISSING: ”The LEGO Movie.“ I've heard ”Song of the Sea“ is beautiful, though.
- ”Finding Vivian Maier“
- ”Last Days in Vietnam“
- ”The Salt of the Earth“
MISSING: ”Life Itself.“ Thumbs down.
- Roger Deakins, ”Unbroken“
- Emmanuel Lubezki, ”Birdman“
- Dick Pope, ”Mr. Turner“
- Robert Yeoman, ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
- Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski,”Ida“
Just when you're finally getting the recognition you deserve, the president of the Academy pronounces your name ”Poop.“ Sorry, Dick Pope. Seriously, Academy presidents, do a run-through or something.
- ”American Sniper“
- ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
- ”The Imitation Game“
MISSING: ”Birdman.“ Because of all the single shots? And does this kill its chances for best picture? The last time a film won best picture without being nominated for film editing was in 1980 with ”Ordinary People“: 35 years ago.
Foreign Language Film
- ”Ida“ (Poland)
- ”Leviathan“ (Russia)
- ”Tangerines“ (Estonia)
- ”Timbuktu“ (Mauritiana)
- ”Wild Tales“ (Argentina)
MISSING: ”Force Majeure.“
- ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
- ”The Imitation Game“
- ”Into the Woods“
- ”Mr. Turner“
A lot of prognosticators got this way wrong. They were thinking ”Birdman“ and ”Maleficent“ and ”Unbroken.“ But the Academy was not kind to Angelina Jolie this year. Too old, I guess.
- ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
- ”Inherent Vice“
- ”Into the Woods“
- ”Mr. Turner“
- Alexandre Desplat, ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
- Alexandre Desplat, ”The Imitation Game“
- Jóhann Jóhannsson ”The Theory of Everything“
- Gary Yershon, ”Mr. Turner“
- Hans Zimmer ”Interstellar“
- ”Everything is Awesome“ (Shawn Patterson, Tegan and Sara, ”The LEGO Movie“)
- ”Glory“ (John Legend and Common, ”Selma“)
- ”Grateful“ (Diane Warren, ”Beyond the Lights“)
- ”I'm Not Gonna Miss You“ (Glen Campbell, Julian Raymond, ”Glen Campbell ... I'll Be Me“)
- ”Lost Stars“ (Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, ”Begin Again“)
Makeup and Hairstyling
- ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
- ”Guardians of the Galaxy“
- ”American Sniper“
- ”The Hobbit“
- ”American Sniper“
- ”Captain America: The Winter Soldier“
- ”Dawn of the Planet of the Apes“
- ”Guardians of the Galaxy“
- ”X-Men: Days of Future Past“
- “The Bigger Picture”
- ”The Damn Keeper“
- ”Me and My Moulton“
- “A Single Life”
- “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”
- “Our Curse”
- “The Reaper (La Parka)”
- “White Earth“
Live Action Short
- “Boogaloo and Graham”
- “Butter Lamp”
- “The Phone Call“
Thoughts? I'm sure I'll have more as the day progresses.
”Birdman“ leads with nine nomations. ”How did we end up here ...?"
- Tyler Kepner makes makes an interesting connection among the four members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2015: No one alive was hit by more pitches than Craig Biggo, and no one alive hit more batters than Randy Johnson.
- David Schoenfield has a nice piece on the 10 best games from RJ, Pedro, and Smoltz. 10 overall, so Smoltzie gets short shrift. It's mostly based upon Game Score but with great postseason relief appearances tossed in for good measure.
- The Associated Press Snodgrasses the obit headline of pitcher Stu Miller.
- Andrew Sullivan on toilet graffiti. I like the last joke in particular.
- Via Hollywood Elsewhere: Matt Bomer as Montgomery Clift? I'm there. And here's a little R.E.M. song for the kids who don't know Monty. Or R.E.M.
- My feelings about a movie version of Michael Lewis' “The Big Short” are pretty much Jeff Wells'. Starring Brad Pitt, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling? Cool! Directed by Adam McKay (“Anchorman 2,” “Step Brothers”)? Um... Wells is a bit more emphatic.
- Via Mr. B: When Ayn Rand was almost on “The Dick Cavett Show.” And why she wasn't.
- A Stranger photo essay on the last night of the Harvard Exit theater. First film I saw there was a Taiwanese film when I was visiting my sister (and on my way to Taiwan). First film I saw there as a Seattle was “The Hours and the Times,” a short film imagining the Barcelona trip John Lennon and Brian Epstein took together in 1963. Both were SIFF films. The last? “The Imitation Game” last month with Patricia.
- Moira Macdonald has a nice piece on the history of the Harvard Exit.
- From the Star-Tribune: great snowsculptures (tortoise, shark) from three Minnesota brothers. Plus a Beatles-esque leap in the air.
- From the Seattle Times: Danny Westneat writes about economic eviction in the Emerald City, and why Seattle has become a place for the rich and the homeless.
- Via Ciam: What do crickets sound like if you slow down their chirping to put it on par with the lifespan of humans? They sound like a church choir.
- Via Colleen: Which celebrities make celebrities act like starstruck fans? Prince for one.
- Damn, what is it about police and fire chiefs taking on mayors? First Minneapolis, then NYC, now Atlanta.
- Potential future job application question: What is your cuddle quotient?
- Nice piece on Kam Chancellor, the Seahawks own, and the man who leaps offensive and defensive lines in a single bound. Twice.
- Finally, EL favorite Joe Posnanski gives us “48 Lessons from 48 Years.” I disagree with No.s 5, 12, 33 and agree the most with No.s 16, 18, 18 and 42.
The Harvard Exit on Capitol Hill for a show of “Perks of Being a Wallflower” in 2012.
My 2014 Oscar Nominations
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announces its nominees for the 2014 Oscars tomorrow morning. Here are my choices. These are preferences, not guesses. Guesses are boring, but I give odds after each category. Plus a better resource at the end.
- “The Drop”
- “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
The first two are in. “Budapest” maybe. “Drop” and “Fury” have no shot even though up to 10 films can be nominated.
- Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
- Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”
- Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
- Bennet Miller, “Foxcatcher”
- Pawel Pawlikowski, “Ida”
The first three were nom'ed for DGAs yesterday, a good harbinger. I'd rather the other DGA noms, Clint Eastwood (“American Sniper”) and Morten Tyldum (“Imitation Game”), didn't make it. Options include: Ruben Östlund (“Force Majeure”) Michael R. Roskam (“The Drop”), David Ayer (“Fury”), Ira Sachs (“Love Is Strange”), Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”), Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), Jean-Marc Vallee (“Wild”), Ava DuVernay (“Selma”), and Paul Thomas Anderson (“Inherent Vice”).
- Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
- Tom Hardy, “The Drop”
- John Lithgow, “Love Is Strange”
- David Oyelowo, “Selma”
- Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”
Tough category. Toughest? I didn't even include Michael Keaton for “Birdman,” the likely winner. Unless it's Redmayne. Of mine, only Redmayne is a sure thing.
- Bérénice Bejo, “Le Passé”
- Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
- Lisa Loven Kongsli, “Force Majeure”
- Jenny Slate, “Obvious Child”
- Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”
I don't know if I'm hearing nothing on “Le Passé” because it's considered a 2013 movie or because nobody liked it as much as I did. I think the former. Of the above, Witherspoon is the no-brainer, while Cotillard would get my vote. Caveat: I haven't seen either of the Julianne Moore movies, but she's the likely winner for a movie no one has seen.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
- Shia LeBeouf, “Fury”
- Ed Norton, “Birdman”
- Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
- J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”
- Matthias Schoenaerts, “The Drop”
Norton and Simmons are the likely nominees, Simmons the likely winner. It pains me to leave off Ethan Hawke's work for “Boyhood.” LeBeouf and Schoenaerts have gotten *zero* talk. Is it the consecutive vowels in their names? I think the Academy is vowelist. Thus spaketh Lundegaard.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
- Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
- Laura Dern, “Wild”
- Agata Kulesza, “Ida”
- Rene Russo, “Nightcrawler”
- Marisa Tomei, “Love Is Strange”
Arquette, yes, Dern and Russo maybe. Emma Stone will get nom'ed for “Birdman.” Probably Jessica Chastain for “A Most Violent Year.” Did you see her at the Golden Globes? She gets better-looking every year.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
- Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
- David Ayer, “Fury”
- Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, “Birdman”
- Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
- Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, “The LEGO Movie”
Would've had “Selma” in here but for the LBJ thing. “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” in. Everything else is up for grabs.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
- Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”
- James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, “Guardians of the Galaxy”
- Nick Hornby, “Wild”
- Dennis Lehane, “The Drop”
- Gillian Robespierre, “Obvious Child”
“Whiplash” has a shot. Why, by the way, is Hornby getting no love? Talk about a tough adaptation. The book is mostly interior, something books do better than movies, and he made it work. Plus he's Nick Hornby.
- “Jordorowsky’s Dune”
- “Life Itself”
- “The Unknown Known”
- “Whitey: United States of America v. James G. Bulger”
It appears to be a battle between “CitizenFour” and “LifeItself,” with the former probably winning.
Better predictions can be found via Nathaniel Rogers at Film Experience.
Tom Hardy in “The Drop”: No love, despite the puppy.
Quote of the Day
“I do a lot of work on campaigns. But the money part of it drives me crazy. I think our democracy is close to being bought and that’s very troubling. I worry about what’s happening with radical Islam. I think we have done a good job [in Minnesota] of integrating all beliefs. But you hope we don’t get directly touched by the awfulness because that could change how things are working here. And I worry about why we have these terrible, deep divisions in politics that prevent us from doing things that need to be done. I know there’s blame on both sides, but—this won’t surprise you—I think it’s mostly because of what the Republicans have become.’’
-- Walter Mondale, in Doug Grow's excellent piece, “Walter Monday on life and loss, and finding ways to matter,” on MinnPost.
2014 DGAs Announced: And We're Down to 3 American Indies and 2 (Wait, 1) British Biopic
The Fantastic Five.
The Directors Guild of America nominated its five best directors for 2014:
- Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
- Clint Eastwood, “America Sniper,”
- Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “Birdman”
- Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
- Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”
Three of these would be among my five nominees. Not? Eastwood, whose movie I haven't seen (and have doubts about), and Tyldum, whose movie I have (and don't).
So why does Tyldum get the nod over Whatshisface who directed the other British supersmart biopic, “The Theory of Everything”? Who knows? And think of the dozen, two dozen, more deserving directors that could've, should've, been nom'ed: Bennet Miller, Michael R. Roskam, David Ayer, Ira Sachs, Dan Gilroy, Damien Chazelle, Jean-Marc Vallee, Ava DuVernay, and Paul Thomas Anderson. And that's just from the American movies.
Seems “Theory of Everything” is out of the running now. So is “American Sniper,” really. It didn't get a nom for SAG cast and the last film that won the AA for best pic without a SAG cast nomination was “Braveheart” in 1995.
What's left? The three American indies (“Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Grand Budapest”) and the British biopic (“Imitation Game”).
This is the first DGA nomination for Anderson, Linklater and Tyldum. It's the second for Inarritu (“Babel” in 2006) and the fourth for Eastwood (“Unforgiven,” “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby”).
Oscar nominations Thursday.
Movie Review: Inherent Vice (2014)
The only Thomas Pynchon I’ve read—and that was 30 years ago—was “The Crying of Lot 49,” which I found bizarre, beautifully written, very L.A., and almost completely incomprehensible.
The movie “Inherent Vice,” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and based upon Pynchon’s 2009 novel of the same name, shares with “Lot 49” everything from outsized names (Petunia Leeway, Sauncho Smilax) to the pungency of L.A. at the end of the 1960s (drugs and hippies, Orange County Republicans and real estate, skateboarders and bikers) to incomprehensibility. Halfway through, I thought, “It’s like ‘Chinatown,’ but with the Dude rather than Jake Gittes as the P.I., and steeped in the spacey nihilism of the 1970s rather than the grittiness of the 1930s.” Then I thought, “Actually, it’s just a lot like ‘The Big Lebowski.’ The stoner take on noir. The detective work that goes nowhere. Except ...”
Except, I thought, it’s not as good. The tone is off. It’s smart, well-acted, but ...
And then it hits you: Is the problem the director?
I say all of this with trepidation. In 2007, after seeing Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” at the Guild 45th, I dismissed it. I thought it wasn’t quite there. Then a few years ago my friend Vinny forced me to rewatch it. And I was blown away.
So maybe I’m missing something here, too. Maybe I need to see it again. That, at least, is an option with Anderson. Even when his movies don’t quite connect, you still want to see them again.
“Inherent Vice” opens the way all noir detective movies open: a girl enters the office of the detective with a case. Except here, the office is a run-down near-breachfront apartment, the P.I. is a pot-smoking slacker, Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), less hippy than fallen hipster, while the girl, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston, Sam’s daughter), is Doc’s former girlfriend, and now paramour of real estate mogul Michael Z. Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). She talks vaguely, and circularly, of a plot to kidnap him and put him in a mental institution. She’s worried for him. Doc is worried for her. He still loves her, you can tell. Soon, she goes missing.
Other cases, connected to this one, keep turning up at Doc’s doorstep. Tariq Khalil (Michael Kenneth “Omar” Williams), fresh out of prison, wants Doc to find his former cellmate, Glen Charlock, a member of the Aryan brother and current Wolfmann bodyguard. He also wants him to find his old neighborhood, which has been razed for one of Wolfmann’s new developments: Channel View Estates. Blacks being booted for the whites. In the development, at the end of a cul-de-sac, Doc finds a brothel, gets hit on the head, and wakes up next to a very dead Charlock while dozens of members of the LAPD train guns on him. They’re led by Lt. Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin, in a standout peformance), a crew-cutted chest-thumper, who earned his nickname by beating up suspects, and who has a comic oral fixation with black phallic symbols—mostly chocolate-covered bananas. In turns, we find out he’s 1) smarter than we thought, 2) henpecked at home, 3) disrespected or at least disconnected at work. He has issues. And he’s the closest thing Doc will have to a partner in the movie.
He’s also the subject of one of the film’s more meaningful lines. The last time we see him, he literally breaks down the door to Doc’s beachhouse, glowers down at a stoned Doc, takes a puff of his joint, then eats the rest of it. It’s almost an “I-drink-your-MILKSHAKE!” moment, isn’t it? Stunned through his haze, Doc says something like, “Take it easy, brother,” and we get this exchange:
Bigfoot: I ain’t your brother.
Doc: No, but you need a keeper.
Nice. And both in the simian and Biblical sense. Maybe we all do.
Another case that winds up on Doc’s doorstep? Hope Harlingen (Jenna Malone) wants him to find her husband, Coy (Owen Wilson). If almost everyone in the movie has a habit of going missing, Coy keeps turning up in Doc’s path and on Doc’s TV. There he is disrupting a speech by Pres. Nixon before a right-wing “Vigilant California” rally. So is he a left-wing agitator? Not really. He’s an informer now for the feds, and the disruption is supposed to give him street cred. But he wants out. Except there is no out. That’s why he’s missing. He’s staying away from his wife and child to protect them.
All of these various mysteries soon revolve around an organization called the Golden Fang, which is either an Indochinese drug-smuggling cartel or an association of Orange County dentists. Or both. The latter is led by Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short), a coke-snorting, secretary-schtupping mess, who dies in a trampoline accident off-screen. But it’s not an accident.
Paying the rent
“Inherent Vice” has all the trappings of a noir detective story but not much is solved. We want right angles and get curves, endings and get fizzle. There’s a paranoid sense of a menace, a monstrosity shifting the world beneath our feet, but it’s not just paranoia. It’s Gov. Reagan releasing mental patients, and in effect privatizing mental health care (as he would do nationally as president), and it’s in one of these institutions where Doc finally finds Michael Wolfmann, who made the mistake of thinking he could give away his real estate holdings. It’s the collusion of money and politics, which is backed by shocktroops both public (LAPD) and private (the Aryan Brotherhood). It’s the return of Shasta, who was never kidnapped or killed, as Doc feared; she just went away for a while. But she returns damaged goods. Wolfmann abused her sexually, and she liked it, thrived on it, and still wants it. And Doc gives it to her. That scene—love turning to sadomasochism—is a death-of-the-sixties moment. It’s Woodstock becoming Altamont, the hope of RFK becoming the reality of Nixon.
Which is why, I assume, Doc engineers the ending he does. Sitting on a stash of Golden Fang heroin, he brokers a deal with Vigilant California bigwig Crocker Fenway (‘90s indie favorite Martin Donovan, in a pitch-perfect cameo): the return of the heroin for the release of Coy Harlingen from his informant obligations; so he can return to his wife and child; so Doc can have ahappy ending, even if it’s not his.
Their dealmaking conversation is instructive:
Doc: How much money would I have to take from you so I don’t lose your respect?
Crocker (smiles): A bit late for that. People like you lose all claim to respect the first time they pay anybody rent.
The look Doc gives him on that one. Rent as a sucker’s game. You and me playing by the rules even though the game is fixed. There’s a sense here, and throughout the movie, that this is where we went wrong. During this pivotal moment, the left got stoned while the right got busy. It shifted the ground. It rigged the game even more.
I don’t know. Maybe I’ve written myself into liking the film more than I did while watching it. In the theater, I kept thinking Anderson was screwing up. Despite everything happening on screen, it all felt flat, extended, poorly edited.
But I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. There’s something there. If we could just figure out what it is.
My Top 10 Movies of 2014
Intro music (for a slideshow): Thanks to Hollywood's distribution system (all the best movies stuffed into the end of the year, often with only NY and LA screenings), I had to wait a few weeks before posting this. And I still haven't seen J.C. Chandor's “A Most Violent Year,” which is currently playing in all of four theaters around the country. (Thanks, A24.) Despite the chatter elsewhere, I think this was a good year for movies. Any year in which “Life Itself,” “Nightcrawler,” “Selma” and “Whiplash” don't make my top 10 is a good year. Plus it was good early. Nearly half of the films on my list played in Seattle before July 1.
10. Force Majeure: The atmosphere Ruben Östlund creates is distant, cold, spooky. It’s the modern, mechanized society. All needs are met but no one is present. We only see two employees at the ski resort and both are silent and incompetent. Otherwise, everything is just there and vaguely menacing: the booms of the controlled avalanches; the creaking of the ski lifts. One of my favorite shots is the family waiting through their electric toothbrush routine. No physical movement is actually involved. They’re all just waiting for the mechanism to finish its task. Its task is us.
9. Foxcatcher: What an indictment of the American class system. It’s about how excellence can be bought by the idle rich. It’s a movie about the sadness of people with too few options, and the sadness of people with too many. It’s about these words, “No, Mark, stay,” which implies a dog you can control, and “No, John! Stop, John!” which implies a dog you can’t. The dog you can’t control is the very rich, who are very different from you and me.
8. Love Is Strange: The best love story of the year. The dramatist’s dilemma isn’t how to bring the lovers together but how to keep them apart for 90 minutes, and Ira Sachs’ approach is novel: he marries them. Society does the rest. The movie has issues (all movies have issues), but it has such humanity. I think of John Lithgow's Ben painting on the rooftop, and Alfred Molina as George showing up for a rainsoaked late-night embrace.
7. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson needs real actors at the heart of his movies to give them heart, and Ralph Fiennes does so here. Anderson says the film was inspired by Stefan Zweig's memoir “The World of Yesterday,” and, indeed, we go through a world of yesterdays (2014, 1985, 1968, 1932) to get to a protagonist who lives in a world of yesterday: as 20th-century war approaches, he pretends 19th-century manners matter. Anderson’s world of yesterday is one where art and literature matter, and he sustains that illusion with a marvelous grace.
6. Le Passé: There are small, exquisite scenes. Asghar Farhadi often shows us the thing before revealing what the thing means; before revealing its past. The ending is about as perfect as endings get. “If you can hear me,” Samir tells his comatose wife, “squeeze my hand.” The camera then pans to his hand in hers. We’re waiting for any movement. It's the title. It's a man being held, and not, by something that’s dead, and isn’t.
5. Fury: It begins with a man on a white horse patrolling through the fog of a recent battle. Except he’s a German officer and he’s quickly killed by Sgt. “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt). David Ayer is putting us on notice: No men on white horses here, kids; no John Waynes. You know the leap in realism between John Wayne movies and, say, HBO’s “Band of Brothers”? “Fury” almost feels like that leap again. It makes you long for the moral clarity of “Band of Brothers.”
4. The Drop: The obvious comparison, and it’s a doozy, is with “On the Waterfront.” Both films have dark moods, a weight of the world, a sense of being trapped. The cops are no help and the church just reminds you of all the bad you’ve done. The key relationship is the older relative—brother Charlie, cousin Marv—and each has a dirty history. Years earlier, favors were asked, lives were ruined. Maybe the asker doesn’t know it yet. Maybe he doesn’t want to know. Then there's Hardy's final monologue. I go to the movies for the way he says “Nah.”
3. Ida: It's not just a gorgeously shot look at Poland and the aftermath of World War II; it's the best roadtrip movie of the year, the best detective team of the year. The beautiful novitiate nun gets them in places, the sharp-tongued Jewish prosecutor digs for answers. “Did you know the Lebensteins?” “Jews?” “No, Eskimos.” The closer she gets to an answer, the more she unravels. There's a purity to the film in form and content. There's not a wasted line, a wasted shot.
2. Birdman: The Susan Sontag quote, “A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing,” is taped to the corner of Riggan's dressing-room mirror, and it's the most ignored thing in the movie. Is the play any good? Depends what the New York Times critic writes tomorrow. Am I any good? “You’re beautiful, you’re talented, and I’m lucky to have you.” We want to be of the people but soar above them. We want to feel ourselves beloved on the earth. Because if we're not? We're nothing. We're not even here.
1. Boyhood: It has moments that feel as real as my own memories: the search for arrowheads, giggling at lingerie ads, hanging in the narrow space between garages. There’s the late-night, teenage drop-off in the station wagon, the makeout sessions in same, the friends that come and go. The movie, filmed over 12 years, is wholly unique. Because we watch this young actor age all this time, there’s a pang when we think of him and the boy he once was. It’s almost as if he’s family.
Exit music (for a slideshow): Feel free to post your faves below. Here are my top 10 lists from 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.
'Taken 3' Takes Box Office, 'Selma' a Distant Second
Letting freedom ring.
America has a particular set of skills, and history isn’t one of them.
“Taken 3,” with a 12% Rotten Tomatoes rating, shot up everything at the box office this weekend, grossing $40 mil domestically. This is down from “Taken 2”’s take ($49 mil), but that film opened in October. The original debuted in January 2009 and raked in $24 mil on its way to $145. Don't expect that overall gross here. Instead, fast and furious. Short shelf life.
“Selma,” expanding from 22 theaters to 2,179, was a distant second, earning $11 mil. I’m curious about the racial demographics of the audience on this one. Even “Ride Along,” last January’s “urban” comedy, opened to $41 mil. So many are willing to go to that, but no one wants to see the first feature-length film focusing on MLK? Or are they saving it for next weekend?
The rest of the top 10 took big hits. “The Woman in Black 2,” per the horror genre, dropped 68% and fell from 4th to 9th. “Hobbit,” “Unbroken,” “Night at the Museum,” “Annie” and “Hunger Games” all fell in the 50s. “Into the Woods,” in third place, did the best of hanging on: It dropped in the 40s.
BTW: the $4 mil “Hunger Games: Mockingjay” earned puts it within $4 mil of “Guardians of the Galaxy” for 2014’s biggest movie, domestically. Will probaby take 10-14 days to get there.
The 2014 BAFTA Nominees: 'Budapest,' 'Birdman' and British Biopics
Sherlock Holmes' smarter brother and Finnick Odair announced the nominees last week.
BAFTA, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, announced its nominations for 2014 at end of last week. Here they are. I've included thoughts, FWTW, on each category:
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- The Imitation Game
- The Theory of Everything
Yes, yes, yes, no, no. Seriously, what do people see in these last two movies? They're reductive biopics of supersmart Brits. The leads in each are great. The stories? Meh. But all five films will appear on the Academy's list. What's missing? Folks who know say “Unbroken” and “Selma.” Folks who don't (me) say “The Drop” and “Fury.”
Best British film
- The Imitation Game
- The Theory of Everything
- Under The Skin
The BAFTAs began this category way back in 1948, but dropped it in 1968 after four of its previous six “Best films” were also “Best British films”: “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Tom Jones,” “Dr. Strangelove,” and “A Man for All Seasons.” They started the category up again 30 years later in 1993. Anyone know why? BTW, I want to see “'71” based on the title alone. I've heard “Paddington” is good. Put it on a double bill with “Kindertransport.”
- Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
- Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel
- Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler
- Michael Keaton - Birdman
- Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
If I had a vote I'd go Redmayne or Fiennes. But no Tom Hardy? For either film?
- Amy Adams - Big Eyes
- Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything
- Julianne Moore - Still Alice
- Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
- Reese Witherspoon - Wild
The main surprise is Amy Adams in place of Mariion Cotillard. Is the latter doomed to win critics' praise but not industry praise for “Two Days, One Night”? Does she need a hand to hold onto, a shoulder to cry on? Marion: call me.
- Steve Carell - Foxcatcher
- Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
- Edward Norton - Birdman
- Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
- JK Simmons - Whiplash
Carell as supporting? The Academy should do that. Otherwise, the list is as expected.
- Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
- Rene Russo - Nightcrawler
- Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game
- Imelda Staunton - Pride
- Emma Stone - Birdman
Keira, huh? Haven't seen “Pride.” What's missing: Laura Dern for “Wild,” Agata Kulesza for “Ida,” and hey, how about Kim Dickens for “Gone Girl”? But no one's talking that one up.
- Wes Anderson - Grand Budapest Hotel
- Damian Chazelle - Whiplash
- Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - Birdman
- Richard Linklater - Boyhood
- James Marsh - The Theory of Everything
Same as pic except Norway's Morten Tyldum, who directed “The Imitation Game,” has been replaced by Damian Chazelle of “Whiplash.” Good move. I would've lost James Marsh, too.
- American Sniper - Jason Hall
- Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
- The Imitation Game - Graham Moore
- Paddington - Paul King
- The Theory of Everything - Anthony McCarten
No Nick Hornby for “Wild”? Instead Graham Moore for “Imitation Game”? For shame. And the rest? When I post my Oscar nominee wishlist (next week), exactly none of these will be on it.
- Birdman - Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr, Armando Bo
- Boyhood - Richard Linklater
- The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson
- Nightcrawler - Dan Gilroy
- Whiplash - Damien Chazelle
I'd take all of these in a heartbeat. So odd that I agree almost 100% with original and 0% with adapated.
- Big Hero 6
- The Boxtrolls
- The Lego Movie
I would include “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” here. But then it's one of only two animated movies I've seen this year.
- 20 Feet from Stardom
- 20,000 Days on Earth
- Finding Vivian Maier
Maybe there should be a “divisible by 20” category? “20 Feet” won the Oscar last year but apparently didn't make it across the pond until this year. I assume “CitizenFour” will be tough competition. Anyone seen “Virunga”?
- The Lunchbox
- Two Days, One Night
I'd go “Ida.” Havent' seen “Leviathan” or “Trash.” Want to see “Leviathan.”
- Birdman - Emmanuel Lubezki
- The Grand Budapest Hotel - Robert Yeoman
- Ida - Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski
- Interstellar - Hoyte van Hoytema
- Mr Turner - Dick Pope
Good choices all around. I'd go “Ida.”
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- The Imitation Game
- Into the Woods
- Mr Turner
- The Theory of Everything
Um ... “Budapest”? Not my wheelhouse.
- Birdman - Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione
- The Grand Budapest Hotel - Barney Pilling
- The Imitation Game - William Goldenberg
- Nightcrawler - John Gilroy
- The Theory of Everything - Jinx Godfrey
- Whiplash - Tom Cross
Anything but the myopic biopics.
Make-Up and Hair
- The Grand Budapest Hotel - Frances Hannon
- Guardians of the Galaxy - Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou, David White
- Into the Woods - Peter Swords King, J Roy Helland
- Mr Turner - Christine Blundell, Lesa Warrener
- The Theory of Everything - Jan Sewell
Um ... “Budapest”?
- Birdman - Antonio Sanchez
- The Grand Budapest Hotel - Alexandre Desplat
- Interstellar - Hans Zimmer
- The Theory of Everything - Johann Johannsson
- Under the Skin - Mica Levi
I'd probably go Antonio Sanchez. Cue: single drumbeat.
Rising Star Award
- Gugu Mbatha-Raw
- Jack O'Connell
- Margot Robbie
- Miles Teller
- Shailene Woodley
The ages, from top to bottom: 31, 24, 24, 27, 23. Brit, Brit, Aussie, and two Yanks. Should the Academy do something like this? To draw in the kids? Or is the Academy too old to figure it out? BAFTA is suspect, too. I mean, Shailene Woodley? Rising? Three years ago she was in “The Descendants,” last year “The Spectacular Now.” Way to wake up, gramps.
Overall, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” had the most nominations (11), followed by “Birdman” and “Theory of Everything” (10 each). “Boyhood” received five nominations.
The BAFTA awards will be broadcast on February 8.
Anita Ekberg (1931-2015)
I was born three years after “La Dolce Vita,” so my first memory of any Anita Ekberg reference was in SCTV's seminal skit, “Play It Again, Bob,” a takeoff of Woody Allen's “Play It Again, Sam,” in which an “Annie Hall”-era Woody (Rick Moranis) tries to write a movie script for his idol Bob Hope (Dave Thomas):
At around the four-minute mark they talk leading ladies. Hope suggests Joey Heaterton and Woody counters with Diane Keaton:
Hope: That stringbean that was in your movie? ... I need a girl with a build. If I'm gonna fall in love it's gotta be realistic.
Woody: Realistic? I mean, that's exactly what I'm going for. I don't want to mug or go to broad with this thing.
Hope: Well, what's wrong with Anita Ekberg. At least she's .. [cups his hands in front of his chest]. You know.
Woody: What's with the hands? You want an actress with arthritis?
I must've said that last line a thousand times in high school and college.
Eventually I saw “La Dolce Vita” and went “Ohhhhhhh.”
Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain.
Did she do much else? Did I ever see her in anything else? IMDb's ratings of her films have “La Dolce” at 8.1 followed by “Boccaccio '70” (she plays a billboard come to life to taunt a prudish “public decency” crusader) at 7.2. Everything else is below 7.0. More than half are below 6.0.
That “billboard come to life” thing is pretty much it, isn't it? She was often cast as a woman so beautiful and zaftig, so perfectly fitting a certain standard of sexuality, as to be comic.
The New York Times has a nice obit:
Fellini cast Ms. Ekberg in “La Dolce Vita” as a hedonistic American actress visiting Rome. A single moonlit scene — in which she wades into the Trevi Fountain in a strapless evening gown, turns her face ecstatically to the fountain’s waterfall and seductively calls Marcello Mastroianni’s character to join her — established her place in cinema history.
Trailer: Night Will Fall (2014)
The story on it here. I apologize for The Guardian's video ads that start playing after 30 seconds or so. Recommendation: mute before reading.
The Most Absurd Money Game Ever: 1980s Edition
“My father's generation grew up with certain beliefs. One of those beliefs is that the amount of money one earns is a rough guide to one's contribution to the welfare and prosperity of our society. ... It took watching his son being paid 225 grand at the age of twenty-seven, after two years on the job [as a bond trader with Salomon Bros. in the 1980s], to shake his faith in money. He has only recently recovered from the shock.
”I haven't. When you sit, as I did, at the center of what has been possibly the most absurd money game ever and benefit out of all proportion to your value to society ... when hundreds of equally undeserving people around you are all raking it in faster than they can count it, what happens to the money belief? Well, it depends. For some, good fortune simply reinforces the belief. They take the funny money seriously, as evidence that they are worthy citizens of the Republic. It becomes their guiding assumption—for it couldn't possibly be clearly thought out—that a talent for making money come out of a telephone is a reflection of merit on a grander scale. It is tempting to believe that people who think this way eventually suffer their comeuppance. They don't. They just get richer.“
--Michael Lewis, ”Liar's Poker," epilogue.
Stop the Press! The Downward Spiral of Journalism from Watergate to the UK Hacking Scandal
These lines in Nick Davies' book about the hacking scandal of England, “Hack Attack: The Inside Story of How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch,” caught my attention:
I thought back to the 1970s and 80s, when the secret state routinely invaded the privacy of its targets, and a network of lawyers and politicians and journalists had worked hard to try to make the police and security agencies accountable. Finally, those agencies had been forced to accept strict guidelines for the use of surveillance on citizens. Yet now, tabloid journalists had pulled on the secret policeman’s boots and started to engage in wanton surveillance, without any kind of accountability or due process: simply, they spied where they wanted.
I've been thinking about this kind of thing for a while.
I began to think about it when comparing and contrasting two movies, “All the President's Men” and “The Insider.” In each, you have two men working together to uncover something illegal or unethical. In each movie, their initials are W and B (Woodward and Bernstein; Wigand and Bergman). In the first, it's two journalists, in the second a journalist and a corporate insider. The two men struggle, are besmirched by the powers that be, but ultimately, in each case, they get the truth out.
The next movie about a real-life scandal that I compared and contrasted with these two is “Fair Game” from 2010. If this film isn't as good as the other two (and it isn't, nearly), it's partly because its two heroes, Valerie Plame and her husband Joe Wilson, a CIA operative and a career diplomat, are at odds with each other for the last third of the film. The latter is working to uncover the Bush-era scandal, the former to keep it covered up. As for the press? It's helping spread misinformation rather than information. It clouds rather than clarifies. This was true of the Iraq War in general. (See: Judith Miller.)
In other words, we've gone from “All the President's Men,” with its two journalist heroes, to “The Insider,” with its one journalist hero, to “Fair Game,” with not only zero journalist heroes, but with a press corps more interested in sensationalism than accuracy.
And with “Hack Attack”? The press—or its Murdoch variation—is the scandal.
At least we still have Nick Davies and The Guardian. We still have a journalist hero. But what a downward cycle. The press has gone from uncovering governmental or corporate scandals, to clouding governmental or corporate scandals, to being the scandal.
I look forward to the movie. And to better journalism.
Good ol' days. The press, uncovering the scandal. Today, it often is the scandal.
On the Boat to America with Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel
My Christmas present to myself this year was “Chaplin's Mutual Comedies: 1916-1917,” which includes both DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as (the clincher), a 63-minute doc, “The Birth of the Tramp,” about his early years.
The restoration on these films is wonderful, the shots of America at the turn of the century amazing. Hats everywhere. But it's all crystal clear.
America, turn of the last century, when being filmed was a new thing.
I saw some of the Mutual comedies at the Grand Illusion theater in Seattle the week the Iraq War started, and absolutely loved them. I remember it being an oasis. Nearly 100-year-old Charlie was a kind of sanity for me in insane times.
In that 63-minute doc, it's mentioned that when Chaplin came over to America in the fall of 1910 as the principal player of Fred Karno's troupe of actors, one of the other actors accompanying him, his understudy, was a kid named Stan Jefferson. Who became Stan Laurel. What are the odds? I guess Karno knew—or knew how to develop—talent.
Chaplin (framed by life preserver) and Laurel (same row, left) on the boat to America.
Laurel and Chaplin (center) in America in 1910, about to get in on the ground floor of a new business.
Movie Review: Force Majeure (2014)
I was surprised that the avalanche occurs 12 minutes in. Then there’s the silent accusations that become vocal during a squirmingly awful dinner with another couple. That takes us 30 minutes in. The movie, I knew, verged on two hours. I looked over at Patricia, stricken, hand on my chest, and said, “I can’t believe this goes on for 90 more minutes.”
But it does. “Force Majeure” may be the most uncomfortable comedy I’ve seen.
Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), is the young, handsome patriarch of a photogenic Swedish family on a ski vacation in France. But he recalls Richard Nixon in this way: It’s less his crime than his cover-up.
After skiing one morning, the family is having lunch on a picturesque veranda when they hear the muffled explosion of a controlled avalanche. Then they see the snow coming toward them. Everyone stands, oos and ahs, and takes pictures and videos. Tomas does this, too, even as his youngest, Harry (Vincent Wettergren), struggles to get away. But the father assures him it’s alright. Until, that is, this monster of white all but envelops them, and Tomas flees. That’s his crime. He leaves his wife and children behind on the veranda.
In that split-second, their lives are irrevocably changed.
The avalanche turns out to be a ghost avalanche, a snow cloud, and as it dissipates the sky turns blue again. But the skies aren’t really blue again.
It’s the kids who silently accuse Tomas first. Nothing is said, but they act bratty with both parents and kick them out of their hotel room.
Then it’s Tomas’ wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli). They’re having dinner with Charlotte (Karin Myrenberg), a Swedish free spirit, and her ski-lodge pickup, a wide-eyed American (Brady Corbet). Tomas acts the patriarch: he noses the wine, nods approval to the unseen waiter, they talk about their day. It’s all rather dull business until Ebba mentions the avalanche, and Tomas running away from the avalanche. Tomas denies it. Except it’s a weak denial. It’s not angry—as it should be, since he’s being accused of cowardice—it just hangs there awkwardly.
The poet John Berryman once said that the problem with modern society is that a man can live his entire life without knowing whether or not he was a coward. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s certainly no longer true for Tomas. He knows. So why doesn’t he admit it? Because it’s about the worst thing you can admit. So he acts like Nixon; he covers up. It’s his second cowardly act, and, in a way, the more unforgivable one.
Ebba, like a one-woman Woodward and Bernstein, tries to break through, but she only works up the courage when they’ve been drinking with other couples. First there was Charlotte; the next night it’s Tomas’ heavily bearded friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju of “Game of Thrones” and “Kraftidioten”), dallying at the resort with his young girlfriend Fanni (Fanni Metelius). Initially I thought Mats would represent the strong, “natural” man to Tomas’ cowardly, “civilized” man, but thank God no. Instead, Mats plays the awkward diplomat:
I believe that the ‘enemy’ is the image we have of heroes. All those stories about heroes. And the pressure to be a hero and do heroic acts in terrible situations. ... Very few of us are heroic.
Ebba listens, then plays the trump card—the video Tomas was taking as he ran away. It’s played; and Tomas is revealed to himself and to the world.
A shell of a man
That’s the uncomfortable. Where’s the comedy?
Here, for example. On the way back to their room, Mats and Fanni have the following conversation:
Fanni: I wonder how I would react if you had done that to me.
Fanni: You might have run, too, and left your kids behind.
Mats: You might also have run.
Fanni: We’re talking about you and Tomas.
Mats: [Odd noise]
Fanni: Because I think I would react like Ebba: I wouldn’t be able to run.
Is Fanni overidentifying? Does she not know what she’s accusing him of? Is she just young? She gets hers, though. Mats keeps her up for hours trying to prove the negative she dumped into his lap.
If Fanni regrets her bizarre accusation, Ebba comes to regret her sleuthing. Tomas was a shell of a man, and she broke through that shell, but it turns out it was the only thing holding him up. The next day, he all but melts into a puddle. He cries with Mats, locks himself out of his room, wanders around the hotel. At the ski “bar,” a girl tells him that her friend thinks he’s the best-looking guy in the place, and he has seconds to bask in this thought before she returns to tell him, in essence, “Whoops, she meant another guy.” When he finally gets into the room again, with his wife and kids around, he goes into another crying jag, and all gather around to comfort him.
The next day, their last day at the lodge, visibility is slight but the family goes skiing anyway. You’re thinking, “Disaster.” You’re right. Ebba gets left behind, and Tomas trudges after her, calling her name. The camera stays with the kids. Time passes. They plop to the ground. They call out for mother and father. We see their point of view. It’s all white.
For a second, I thought the movie would end there. It wouldn’t have been a bad end, to be honest.
Instead, triumphantly, through the white, we see Tomas carrying Ebba. He smiles, exhales; she walks away. Why was he carrying her if she could walk? Because the whole thing was staged by Ebba? Either to test Tomas (would he try to rescue her now?) or to prop him back up? I assume so. And I assume the latter reason. She broke through his façade to this quivering jelly of a man, and he was so unpalatable, and so much work, that she created a situation where he could be whole again. And they could be a family again.
The image of heroes
The atmosphere of “Force Majeure,” written and directed by Ruben Östlund, is distant, cold, spooky. It’s the modern, mechanized society Berryman alludes to. All of their needs are met but no one is really present. We only see two employees and both are silent and incompetent. Otherwise, everything is just there and vaguely menacing: the booms of the controlled avalanches; the creaking of the ski lifts. And it’s not just the ski resort. One of my favorite shots, which Östlund keeps returning to, is the family waiting through their electric toothbrush routine. No brushing is actually involved. They’re all just waiting for the mechanism to finish its task. Its task is us.
What do you make of the end? The family, vaguely whole again, is taking the resort bus down the winding narrow mountain roads; but the busdriver is an incompetent who can’t handle the sharp turns. He freaks out Ebba, who demands an exit, and everyone gets out except for Charlotte, the self-satisfied free spirit, and the bus continues on its way. The crowd looks around, wondering what to do. I suppose you could say they’ve left the mechanism and they’re not sure what to do. Then they do. They walk down the mountain.
Are they free now? Hardly. Tomas first rejects, then accepts, a cigarette from a fellow walker. He leads the way—with his heavy boots, aviator shades, and cigarette dangling from his mouth. He’s the image we have of heroes.
Who Was the Greatest Player Not Elected to the Hall His First Year?
To coincide with this year's Hall of Fame voting, ESPN.com has unveiled its “Hall of 100,” which, title aside, is a list of the 125 greatest players in baseball history, regardless of PEDs or PYOBs (Place Your Own Bets). But they try to get you to click on the article by touting one of their “controversial” picks: Derek Jeter in 31st place—ahead of Bob Gibson, Roberto Clemente, Ken Griffey, Jr., Nolan Ryan and Pete Rose.
Yeah yeah. A bigger Yankee oddity for me? They put Mickey Mantle 9th and Lou Gehrig 11th. Mantle ahead of Gehrig? Not sure I'd go there.
Otherwise it's the usual suspects: Ruth, Mays, Bonds, Williams, Aaron, Cobb, Clemens. Which means, according to ESPN.com, Roger Clemens is the greatest pitcher of all time. Walter Johnson is second.
But that's not what I want to talk about, either. As I looked over the list, I began to wonder who was the first player on it who wasn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer. PEDs aside.
Count 'em down:
- Babe Ruth, inaugural class, 1936 (95.1%)
- Wllie Mays, 1st year, 1979 (94.7%)
- Barry Bonds: PEDs
- Ted Williams, 1st year, 1966 (93.4%)
- Hank Aaron, 1st year, 1982 (97.8%)
- Ty Cobb, inaugural year, 1936 (98.2%)
- Roger Clemens: PEDs
- Stan Musial, 1st year, 1969, (93.2%)
- Mickey Mantle, 1st year, 1974 (88.2%)
- Honus Wagner, inaugural class, 1936 (95.13%)
- Lou Gehrig, special winter meeting vote, 1939
- Walter Johnson, inaugural class, 1936 (83.6%)
- Greg Maddux, 1st year, 2014 (97.2%)
- Rickey Henderson, 1st year, 2009 (94.8%)
- Rogers Hornsby, fifth year, 1942 (78.1%)
And there's your answer: Rogers Hornsby. The Rajah. From 1920 to 1925, he simply led the league in batting each year. Oh, and OBP. And slugging. And OPS. Across the board, a clean sweep, every one of those years. He led the league in batting seven times, and twice won the Triple Crown. His batting average is the second best all-time (.358), his OBP is the 8th best (.434). And he received, as percentage of HOF votes, 45, 26, 17, and 64, before finally getting the 78% that put him in.
Think about that the next time you feel your spouse is hard to please.
People complain about the Hall and the BBWAA now but look at the Hall and the BBWAA back then. Look at those percentages. More than 6% of voters thought Ted Williams wasn't a Hall of Famer? More than 5% with Willie Mays?
Here's the thing: Williams' number, given the times, was actually quite a compliment: He was only the second player, after the inaugural class, to garner more than 90% of the vote. The first had been Bob Feller in 1962. Meaning no player from 1936 to 1962 received more than 90% of the vote: not Joe DiMaggio (88%), Hank Greenberg (84%), nor Bill Dickey (80%). And none of those guys went in on the first ballot, either. It took DiMaggio three tries, Dickey seven tries, Greenberg eight tries.
In fact, in the 23 years between Gehrig's special election and Bob Feller's induction, the only player to get in on the first ballot was Met Ott in 1951: 87%.
That's not just tough, that's crazy tough. Or just crazy.
The Lesser Trends of 2014 Movies
A “million” in the title can cost millions at the box office: “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” “Million Dollar Arm”
Can a brother get a copyright to make a movie about a brother? Hendrix estate refuses to give rights to Hendrix songs for “Jimi: All Is By My Side”; King’s speeches sold to Spielberg, rewritten for “Selma”
In “Jimi,” Benjamin couldn't play Hendrix's songs; in “Selma” Oyelowo couldn't say King's words.
For when you need a lesbian friend to talk you through your abortion: Gaby Hoffman in “Obvious Child” and “Wild”
Old craggy guys to the rescue! Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington
No, older, craggier: Godzilla
God’s not dead at the box office! “Noah” ($101 million), “Heaven is For Real” ($91), “God’s Not Dead” ($60), “Son of God” ($59)
Except when He is: “When the Game Stands Tall” ($30), “Left Behind” ($14), “The Identical” ($2.8), “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas” ($2.7), “God the Father” ($113k), “Christian Mingle” ($25K) and “The Principle” ($17K)
Let’s dumb down the supersmart: “The Theory of Everything,” “The Imitation Game”
Unless they’re cartoons: “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”
Turing, Hawking, Peabody.
If this is an arbitrarily divided dystopia, you must be our teenage heroine: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1,” “Divergent”
So who played a prostitute this year?
- Chloë Grace Moretz (“The Equalizer”)
- Scarlett Johanssson (“Under the Skin”)
- Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Eva Green (“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”)
How did the world nearly end?
- God (“Noah”)
- Scientists (“Snowpiercer”)
- Aliens (“Edge of Tomorrow”)
- Giant moths (“Godzilla”)
- Crops (“Interstellar”)
- Lockdown and the military-industrial complex (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”)
- James Franco (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”)
Arthouse genre flicks are still very much with us: “Under the Skin” (alien invasion), “Only Lovers Left Alive” (vampires) “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears” (Italian horror)
And the children shall lead: Ellar Coltrane in “Boyhood,” Jaeden Lieberher in “St. Vincent,” Noah Wiseman in “The Babadook”
How did the world end? Pick your poison.
How great is this photo?
It's from the Sunday New York Times interview with Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the man who needs to lose some accents in his last name for the sake of movie critics everywhere. (Thank God for cut and paste.)
The Q&A is interesting, even if Iñárritu neglects to credit F. Scott Fitzgerald here:
I think [being] intelligent creatures is to have two ideas at the same time — you can have happiness and depression simultaneously. I think that’s what really this guy is battling; it’s the duality we all have. Sometimes you can feel the king of world and 30 minutes later, you are a dead piece of [expletive].
Or maybe he got it from someone else. Or from his own deep thoughts.
Among the other revelations? The stark drum soundtrack owes a lot to Gene Krupa, Mike Nichols unsuccessfully warned him away from the “single shot” experiment, and Iñárritu hangs with Michael Mann.
Quote of the Day
“I just think it’s disrespectful to the conference, and it’s politically immature. We ought to be talking about Keystone, we ought to be talking about our Obamacare reforms and fixes, we ought to be talking about trade and our agenda, and instead we have to go through this and it dominates the media for a few days.”
-- U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) on the Tea Party challenge to reconfirming John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker of the House.
To which I say: Welcome to the party, pal.
- SCOTUS bobbleheads! My birthday's coming up if someone wants to buy me a John Paul Stevens.
- Phil Nobile Jr. (son of Phil Nobile) has a good piece on why Idris Elba can't play James Bond. And no, it's not why you think.
- Sam Raimi finally apologizes for “Spider-Man 3,” but both he and Hollywood Reporter don't know why he should. Yes, the Hitler strut is awful, but it's more than that. Much more.
- The NYPD's virtual work stoppage because of a tiff with Mayor De Blasio? Andrew Sullivan's NYC readers think it will backfire.
- The Onion lionizes 10 people who made no difference in 2014. Someday I hope to make the cut.
- Sylvester Stallone is making another Rambo movie? His fifth? “Rambo—Last Blood”? Oy.
- David Schoenfield celebrates Edgar Martinez's birthday by making another case (or the same one) for why Edgar should be in the Hall of Fame.
- He also makes an argument for the most underrated player in baseball history.
- Tim alerted me to this: “Star Trek” closing credits on “The Simpsons.” Technically no Ferengi in TOS but otherwise spot on—particularly Mr. Burns as Balok. Seriously, this bit took me back to 6 PM reruns on summer evenings in the 1970s.
- A black FOX News host disparages a black protest with a picture that isn't from the protest but is instead a photoshopped meme from white supremicist groups. No words.
- In Contention counts down the 25 Most Anticipated Prestige Films of 2015. Three of them star Michael Fassbender. Busy boy. Directors include Mann, del Toro, Scorsese, Spielberg, Tarantino, Haynes, Linklater, Howard, Vallée, Demme, Van Sant, Nichols and (fingers crossed!) Malick.
- Long read of the week: Paige Williams' New Yorker article, “Double Jeopardy,” about how Alabama judges can, and do, override jury sentences—usually for the harsher variety, often for death. Is it unconstitutional? Not yet. Is it dangerous? It seems to be. Are the sentences politically and/or racially motivated? Good question.
Burns as Balok. “I know Captain, a thousand questions. But first, the tranya!”
Quote of the Day
“I don’t know how anyone could leave the Big Unit off their Hall of Fame ballot. Was there ever a more fun pitcher? Why even be a voter if you can’t enjoy checking the box next to Randy Johnson’s name?”
-- Joe Posnanski on Randy Johnson's Hall of Fame chances, which will be announced tomorrow. Pos predicts 97% for the Unit (75% needed). FWIW, “fun” was the word I used in this June 2009 post after Randy won his 300th game.
Big + Unit = 5 Cy Youngs, 303 wins, 4,875 strikeouts.
Applauding Six of the 10 PGA Nominated Films
Among the nominees: “The Theory of Everything,” “Nightcrawler,” “Whiplash,” “Gone Girl” and “Birdman.”
Screw the critics, time for the industry awards.
The Producers Guild of America, or PGA, announced its 2014 nominees for both film and TV today. Here are its 10 nominated films:
- American Sniper
- Gone Girl
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- The Imitation Game
- The Theory of Everything
I'm happy to see half of these movies make the list. (Specifically: “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Foxcatcher,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Nightcrawler” and “Whiplash.”) I'm resigned to seeing “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything” on here. Neither deserves it, but they were made to be on these lists, and garner these awards, so here they are. “American Sniper” is a late Eastwood entry (again) that hasn't arrived in Seattle yet, so no comment. “Gone Girl”? Meh.
But eveyrthing else, yay.
What's missing? Among the assumed nominees: “Selma,” “Unbroken.” Among the good pictures? “The Drop” and “Fury.”
Does it mean anything for the Oscars? A bit. Every PGA winner since 2006 (“Little Miss Sunshine”) has gone on to win the Academy's best picture. Plus, only one best picture Oscar winner has not been nominated by the PGA: “Braveheart” in 1995. So it's likely your 2014 Oscar winner is above.
The ceremony takes place Jan. 24.
Movie Review: Wild (2014)
How do you make a movie about a woman hiking 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself? There’s only one person on stage. Where’s the drama?
The drama is in 1) who she meets, and 2) what she carries. And with the latter, I’m not talking tents and food and water; I’m talking memories. I’m talking about why Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) is hiking the PCT in the first place.
“Wild,” based upon the 2012 memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” is a much better movie than I thought it would be. It’s a wholly American movie. It encompasses the width of our land, from Arizona to Washington state, and the breadth of our land in the music we hear. We start out with shivers of Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa,” and end it with “Homeward Bound,” and in between we get touches of spooky Elvis (“Don’t Be Cruel”) and Lucinda Williams, and it’s all crowned by an odd, small boy in a rainy Oregon forest singing the All-American song of love and loss, “Red River Valley”:
From this valley they say you are going
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile,
For they say you are taking the sunshine
That has brightened our pathway a while
And who’s responsible for this All-American movie? Well, the screenplay was written by Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”), a Brit, and it was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”), a French Canadian.
Of course. Bien sur.
Above your nerve
When Laura Dern first showed up in a flashback as Bobbi, the mother of Cheryl, I whispered to Patricia, “No wonder’s Cheryl’s so screwed up.” But it’s the opposite. This is a new kind of role for Dern. Bobbi is the spiritual center of the movie. She’s what Cheryl hopes to return to.
Why is Cheryl so screwed up? We get flashbacks of the life she’s running from: sex, drugs and a little rock ‘n’ roll—the All-American dream and the All-American mess. She’s a Minnesota girl who became a Portland heroin junkie. But how did that happen? And how did she climb out of it?
Early on, we get a sense that it’s not contemporary. In the flashbacks, Cheryl talks with her mom about Erica Jong and zipless fucks, and why James Michener isn’t a great writer, and those are ’70s or ’80s conversations. Later, we figure out she’s on the trail in the early to mid-’90s. When she hears Jerry Garcia dies.
In my own experience, and that’s just day hiking, the first steps of the hike are often the hardest, and so it seems here. Cheryl so overpacked she can barely stand up. I assumed she would begin to discard things, like Katz in Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods,” but she forces herself upright, and out the door, and ponders the hitchhike options. Then it’s to the trailhead and its logbook, where for the first time she writes down an inspirational literary quote and cheekily adds herself to the attribution: “‘If your nerve deny you, go above your nerve.’ —Emily Dickinson (and Cheryl Strayed).” She keeps doing this with other authors throughout the PCT. It’s a bit precious but kinda fun, too. It's also how she gets known to the other hikers. That, and being a woman hiking alone. Which leads to its own problems.
For all the overpacking, she neglected the proper stove fuel, so she eats her mush cold. By Day 8 she’s starving and veers off the trail and finds a nighttime farmer. Much of the drama (per 1, above) is drama typical to meeting strangers: Can I trust this person? It’s exacerbated, certainly, by Cheryl being a woman alone, but man or woman it’s the reason most of us don’t do what she’s doing. It’s less the rattlesnakes crawling on the ground than the rattlesnakes walking on two legs. She’ll meet a few of those. One in particular.
Frank, the nighttime farmer, is big and blunt (“What kind of woman are you?” he asks), and he takes a nip of liquor, but we don’t really fear him, do we? Partly because he’s played by W. Earl Brown (“Deadwood”), but more because he finishes his nighttime plowing before attending to her needs. He’s the first of her stranger-philosophers, and maybe the best. She regrets decisions she’s made, he talks about his own, she asks if he would change them if he could. But to him, he didn’t have a choice. “Never been a time in my life when there’s been a fork in my road,” he says. In a sense, his lack of choice frees him from the regrets of the past.
Compare this with Cheryl's line about her mother's philosophy:
There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.
Is it better to have a choice or no choice? Both are freeing in their own way. In the end, in an Oregon rainforest, Cheryl splits the difference between the two:
What if I could forgive myself? What if I was sorry? But if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do a single thing differently. What if all those things I did are the things that got me here?
Choice is maintained, regret nullified. I had similar thoughts when I was 27. And I wasn't in an Oregon rainforest at the time.
As Cheryl hikes the trail, meets the people she meets, and overcomes what she has to overcome, she goes deeper into her backstory, which is mostly the story of her mother. Bobbi got fucked over by life and responded with a positive attitude. Then life rewarded her with terminal cancer. That was the event that sent Cheryl spiraling down.
“Wild” isnt' exactly deep but it's never uninteresting. Admittedly, this is the kind of story that’s easier to do in a book, which is a more thoughtful medium, but Hornby and Vallée manage it. The story just flows. To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded less happening. I wouldn’t have minded more alone time with Cheryl—that dizzying, buzzing sense of solitude in the wilderness.
"I’m going to miss the Colbert Report. Satire is the most potent of all political weapons, and Stephen was among the best. I always wondered whether conservatives understood what he was doing. Once, soon after appearing as a guest on his program, I was approached by someone in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport who said, 'Colbert really skewered you the other night.' I laughed. He didn’t. 'Serves you right,' he said, and walked off.
-- Robert Reich, last month, via Facebook.
Box Office: ‘The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death’ is the Biggest Movie of the Year!
Once again, a horror film has been released during the first weekend of the year, has done so-so business against December standouts, but is, for now, the biggest movie of the new year. Because no competition.
A year ago, it was “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” which grossed $18 on its way to $32 (and $90 worldwide). Two years ago, “Texas Chainsaw 3D did $21 on its way to $34, and in 2012 “The Devil Inside” grossed $33 on its way to $53 (and $101 worldwide).
Consider it box-office stretching before the real competition begins.
And this year? “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death,” a sequel to the Feb. 2012 horror film starring Daniel Radcliffe, grossed $15 and finished in fourth place behind “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” ($21/$220 total) “Into the Woods” ($19/$91) and “Unbroken” ($18/$87)
So how did horror wind up with the first weekend of the year? I did a little digging.
From 1980 to 2005, it was rare when a new movie was mass-released this weekend. It just wasn’t worth it. If a movie was any good, you released it during December when the kids were out. If it wasn’t any good, you’d released it later in the month. Or in February. Or March. Or ...
Then in Jan. 1986, a Judge Reinhold comedy, “Head Office,” was released on the first weekend of the year. It finished eighth and grossed $1.9 million. A year later, they tried the Emilio Estevez/Brat Pack vanity project “Wisdom.” No go: 11th place and $1.9 million.
In the mid-90s they gave urban comedies a try. “The Air Up There” (Kevin Bacon recruits tall Africans to play basketball) finished in fifth place with $5.2 million in 1994. The year after, Sinbad was the “Houseguest”: $5.8, third place. So doing better. But urban comedies were soon pushed to later in the month. To honor MLK, I guess.
The new horror formula was hit upon in 2005 when “White Noise” (Michael Keaton tries to converse with the dead, not Don De Lillo) racked up $24 million and second place. In 2006, Eli Roth’s gross-fest “Hostel” actually won the weekend with $19 million. And a brave new world that has such people in it was born.
So meet the new year. Same as the old year.
National Society of Film Critics Goes Godard
Crap. This doesn't mean I have to watch another Godard film, does it?
The National Society of Film Critics (my guys) voted on its best of the year today at “the Elinor Bunin Munroe Center as guests of the Film Society of Lincoln Center
(fancy!), and, in a squeaker over Richard Linklater's ”Boyhood,“ went with Jean-Luc Godard's ”Adieu au Langage“ as its best pic, 25 to 24. ”Birdman“ and ”Mr. Turner“ tied for third with 10 points apiece.
I'm a huge fan of the NSFC but not of Godard. The trailer for ”au Langage“ doesn't make me want to rush out to watch it, either. Kinda the opposite. It's like an American parody of a foreign film.
Here's its 2014 picks:
- BEST PICTURE: Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)
- BEST DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
- BEST NON-FICTION FILM: Citizenfour (Laura Poitras)
- BEST SCREENPLAY: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
- BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Mr. Turner (Dick Pope)
- BEST ACTOR: Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner)
- BEST ACTRESS: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
- BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
- BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
I like that they show the numbers. Would that the Academy did the same. The most points went to Cotillard, with 80, then ”CitizenFour" with 56. After that, no one was even in the 40s.
The 8 Worst Movies of 2014
I mostly get to choose which movies I see, and I mostly choose movies that I think have a chance in hell of being good. So I'm sure there were worse movies released in 2014. That said, the eight movies that follow are pretty bad, and the bottom three or four or five are downright painful. My comments for each entry are pithy, so if you want to read more click on the link for the (generally verbose) review. Onward and downward!
8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1: Never has so much talent created so little for so many.
7. Divergent: At least Katniss looked like she could kick ass.
6. Robocop: The 1987 original was brilliant. I wouldn’t buy this one for a dollar.
5. The Other Woman: Come back to the 9 to 5, Dabney Coleman, Dabney Coleman.
4. 300: Rise of An Empire: It’s less fascistic than the first.
3. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For: Sex + violence isn't supposed to be this boring.
2. God’s Not Dead: I don’t know about God but godawful is very much alive.
1.Tusk: Kevin Smith recently said he’s reached the “I don’t give a fuck” portion of his career. It shows.
What's that you say? You have your own thoughts? Feel free to include them below. And if you're interested in the worst of past years, here you go: 2011, 2012, and 2013. May 2015 stink a little less.
Mario Cuomo: 1932-2015
I heard the following exchange on NPR this morning following the death of Gov. Mario Cuomo last night. It's from a 2004 interview conducted by Steve Inskeep regarding Cuomo's book, “Why Lincoln Matters: Today More than Ever.” It's a nice, smart exchange in a grubby, stupid time.
President Lincoln never professed to belong to an organized church of any kind.
That’s absolutely accurate. If he was anything, he was a rationalist.
And even though he was not part of an organized religion, Lincoln did invoke God in his speeches, and used the language of the Bible in his speeches.
He used the language of the Bible over and over in his second inaugural—how religious his references are. That’s absolutely true. But he never talks about Jesus as the son of God. And he doesn’t talk about “God”; he talks about “Creator.” He waas clearly not a person who accepted any specific religious faith.
In the second inaugural, there’s the line about, “As God gives us to see the right.” I mean, there are references to God.
Yes, well, but he never makes an argument for God.
I just wonder if it says something about the electorate that politicians were addressing then and now? Something practical.
Well, let me ask a really grubby, political question—[chuckles] I’m better at this than you are, of course, because I lived that life for a long time: Would a politician stoop so low as to use religion to get close to voters?
Yeah. I hope I didn’t do it too much, because when I drop dead and I find out there is a God, and, indeed, He has a big book with everything noted. Of course, politicians do it. Did Lincoln do it for that reason? All I know is Lincoln was a master politician.
Gov. Cuomo, what do you think Lincoln would make of the presidential campaign we’re in right now?
He would say, “Thank God I didn’t have to raise that much money.”
Sam Roberts has a good obit and appreciation in The New York Times. The New Yorker goes all out, with posts from Elizabeth Kolbert and Ken Auletta. Kolbert talks about Cuomo's dark broodiness, his moral gravity, and the irony of his time in office, in which the great construction project was prisons. “His great gift,” she writes, “was to make listeners feel that politics was a serious business and that civic life matters.”
My friend Jerry Grillo on Facebook:
I was proud that Mario Cuomo was my governor (back when I lived in New York) and wish him well on the backstage pass portion of his journey. As a photographer for the Suffolk County Democrats, I took his picture, and he gave me his autograph. He was a nice guy, a great leader, a decent human being, the son of immigrants who played minor league baseball here in Georgia one summer. Goodbye, Mr. Cuomo.
Also via Facebook, Robert Reich:
Mario Cuomo was one of the kindest and most dedicated politicians I ever knew, right up there with Teddy Kennedy and Paul Wellstone in my pantheon of the greats. Cuomo lived his values, and those values were almost always in the direction of social justice. I’ll never understand why he decided against running for president. He could have been elected—no one could give a speech as well—and he would have made a terrific leader for the nation.
I missed most of Cuomo's highlights, including the 1984 DNC speech that rocked the Dems and made Cuomo a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, and possibly the presidency, if he so desired. Apparently he didn't so desire. At least not enough. He might've been the Robin Wright of politicians in this regard. I mostly know him from Ken Burns' 1994 “Baseball” documentary, in which we learn, among other things, that Cuomo had signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates for a bigger bonus than Mickey Mantle received from the New York Yankees.
A thoughtful man in thoughtless times. If there's anything to know, now he knows. Rest in peace.
A thoughtful man in thoughtless times.
Movie Review: The Babadook (2014)
I understand why this movie, despite being in the maligned horror genre, wound up on so many critics’ “best of ...” lists this year: It’s steeped in ambiguity. Even at the end, we don’t know if mother and son are truly haunted (by a ghost-demon), or metaphorically haunted (by the past). It’s almost like “Birdman” in this regard: Is this person crazy or is a little crazy happening in the world?
Extra credit: Does such ambiguity play well with traditional horror fans?
Full disclosure: I’m not a traditional horror fan.
Who’s the monster?
“Babadook” is a low-budget Aussie affair with exceptional acting from its two leads, and exceptional directing from its first-time director Jennifer Kent.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother, working at a nursing home, and raising her six-year-old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). He’s a cute boy who sees monsters at night, but he’s odd and she’s harried. Sleep is interrupted. He’s bringing weapons to school, hurting other kids. Eventually the monster has a name, the Babadook, and one night, at Sam’s request, Amelia reads to him from a book she’s never seen: “The Babadook.” It’s a frightening children’s book with menacing pop-up figures and rhymes:
If it’s in a word
Or in a look
You can’t get rid
Of the Babadook
The last half of the book is nothing but blank pages. When she sees the effect the book has on Samuel she puts it away. But we know it will return. Those blank pages have to be filled.
A lot of the movie fits within such traditional horror tropes, but they’re subtler; both more grounded and more ambiguous.
To be honest, I kind of figured it out fairly early. Samuel lost his father the day he was born—car accident on the way to the hospital—and one day, at her birthday party, his cousin teases him. She say he doesn’t even have a father. He insists he does. Insists.
That’s when I knew: Baba-dook. Father.
Samuel gets worse: angry, irrational, out of control. In a sense, he becomes a little monster—a more outré version of the way kids are often little monsters—and he and Amelia become more and more isolated. He’s suspended from school, she’s given time off from work, she becomes estranged from her sister. The “Babadook” book somehow winds up back in Samuel’s room, so Amelia rips it up and throws it in the garbage outside; but then it reappears on her doorstep, taped together, and those blank pages are now filled. Is that her in the book? Is she strangling their dog? Is she stabbing her son?
I’ll wager with you
I’ll make you a bet
The more you deny
The stronger I get
(Cf. Amelia’s line about her husband: “I have moved on. I don’t mention him. I don’t talk about him.”)
She goes to the cops and says she’s being stalked—not without reason. Except she looks without reason. Isshe? One moment we pity her, the next we’re suspicious. Are there really roaches crawling out of a hole behind the refrigerator? Is there even a hole behind the refrigerator?
“LET ME IN!” the book says. “Don’t let it in!” Samuel yells at her. But it happens. Capture is inevitable in horror stories.
Worms as food or food for worms
It’s an odd thing, though. As soon as the Babadook “gets her,” as soon as she becomes possessed by it, I stopped being afraid. Amelia is us, our eyes and ears, and the worst thing that can happen to her has already happened to her. More: she’s the strong one now. She’s in control.
Overall, in fact, I wasn’t that frightened by the film. And I scare easily.
I did like the ending. She barfs up the Babadook, more or less, and banishes it, more or less, to the basement. They live with it—this ghost or demon of her dead husband. Or maybe it’s just the weight of the memory of her dead husband. You can make that argument. You can even argue about the worms Samuel digs up in the garden and gives to Amelia to give to the Babadook. Are they to keep the Babadook alive—his food—or are they there to slowly eat him? To finally end him? Is it worms as food or food for worms?
I lean toward the former. Overall the movie’s about suppression. What we repress grows malformed and strong. (“The more you deny/ The stronger I get.”) The goal is to live with the awful thing in order to keep living, and that’s what Amelia and Samuel achieve. That awful thing in their basement? In most horror movies, that’s the starting point. Here’s, it’s the happy ending. It’s harmony.
My Top 10 Movie Quotes of 2014
Squawk! It's been a good year for squawking in movies, hasn't it? I actually had to leave off some good lines: “This isn't freedom, it's fear,” for example, from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which states, in a popcorn movie, what would have been relegated to a Nation editorial 10 years ago. We got Dame Judi Dench quoting Shakespeare and then telling us, “Now if you'd written that you'd be up all night looking at yourself in the mirror,” in the so-so Bard doc “Muse of Fire.” Speaking of: how about John Hurt, as a world-weary Christopher Marlowe (+ vampire), telling Tilda Swinton's Eve, who wants to cause thrilling chaos, “I think the world has enough chaos to keep it going for the minute,” in “Only Lovers Left Alive.”
Most of what follows are from the usual, highly acclaimed suspects, but one in particular comes from a mediocre action movie released last January. Most are somewhat cynical, as I am.
10. “There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”
— Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), quoting her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern) in “Wild.” Screenplay by Nick Hornby from the memoir by Cheryl Strayed.
9. “Everything you say is valid, but you are scaring my dick off.”
--Joey (Gabe Liedman) to Donna and Nellie (Jenny Slate and Gaby Hoffman) in “Obvious Child.” Screenplay by Gilliam Robespierre.
8. “She’s got a lovely gait.” “Probably padlocked.”
--Steve Coogan, eyeing a pretty woman, and Rob Brydon, responding, as the two actors play version of themselves in the mock travelogue, “The Trip to Italy.”
7. “Look at these people. Look at their eyes. They’re all sparkly. They love this shit. They love action. Not this talky depressing, philosophical bullshit. Give the people what they want: some good old-fashioned apocalyptic porn!”
--Birdman, the character, to his alter ego, actor Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), about us (the movie audience) in “Birdman.” Screenplay by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo. If movie audiences are said to have power, then this was Inarritu telling truth to power. My eyes did get all sparkly, but for that reason.
6. “Dear God. Thank you? Amen.”
— Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), a possibly Jewish kid asked to give a prayer before the class on his first day of Catholic school, in “St. Vincent.” Screenplay by Theodore Melfi. It's my new prayer.
5. “The rest of us are just walking around trying not to be disappointed with the way our lives turned out.”
--Maggie Dean (Kristen Wiig) to her brother Milo (Bill Hader) in “The Skeleton Twins.” Screenplay by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman.
4. “We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people.”
--Roger Ebert in opening voiceover, reading from his book “Life Itself” in the documentary “Life Itself.” I left off the next line, “And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy” because I tend to disagree. The best movies might but most movies simply engage us in power and romance fantasies. We are asked to identify with the beautiful and powerful, not the plain and powerless.
3. “Regret, it piles up around us like books we haven’t read.”
--Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) to Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” Screenplay by Adam Cozad and David Koepp. This is me, exactly. Please see the unread books piled in the corner.
2. “To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it. But I will say he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.”
--Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) on his mentor and friend, Gustav F. (Ralph Fiennes), in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Screenplay by Wes Anderson. Lovely, isn't it? It also describes Wes Anderson to a “T.”
1. “There are some sins that you can’t come back from, you know? No matter how hard you try. It’s like the Devil is waiting for your body to give up because he knows … he knows that he already owns your soul. Then I think maybe there is no Devil. You die, and God, he says, 'Nah. Nah, you can’t come in. You have to leave now. You have to leave and go away, and you have to be alone. You have to be alone forever.'”
--Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) in “The Drop.” Screenplay by Dennis Lehane, from his short story “Animal Rescue.” As I said in my review, I go to the movies for moments like this; to hear Tom Hardy say “Nah” the way he does.
And there goes 2014. Thanks for reading. Feel free to add your own favorite quotes in the comments below. If you're interested in looking back, here are my top 10 movie quotes from 2013, 2012 and 2011, along with my five most-quoted movie lines.