Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June. It's a Wrap

In case you missed anything, here's the highlights from the month that was. Meryl Streep was all over but we've still got two more weeks of "Streep at 60" with lots more to cover.

Meryl Streep all over. We've got two more weeks in Streepland.

"Was that hard for you?" Yes, I talked with Michelle Pfeiffer this month. I can't believe it either. I'll share some more about the interview shortly.
First and Last the new screen capture quiz is a hit. How've you been doing?
Signatures: Julie Delpy Adam spends time with cinema's most wonderful tour guide
"The Immoral Psychotic Promiscuous One" Meryl Streep as Liberated Lady in 1979. This career thread / topical embodiment extends through The French Lieutenant's Woman in 1981
My Sister's Keeper It sounds like a sick science fiction horror flick. Unfortunately it's not that cool

VF's Hollywood #12 Remembering Keira and Scarlett in their birthday suits
60 Appropriate Ways to Celebrate Streep's 60th a video and to do list
USB I sometimes like these one offs better than y'all do
Robots cinema's best sentient machines
Oscar's Shocking News the longest comment thread evah greeted AMPAS big bizarre decision: 10 Best Picture nominees moving forward. How long will this change last?

Streep at 60: Chamaeleonidae Erotica

Streep at 60, a retrospective (June 11th - July 14th)

I wear body armor as I type this, for fear of your collective outrage but the time got away from me. We're jumping forward. You see, Streep's second act, those legend making years from 1981-1988, in which she morphed through one of cinema's all time hot streaks like some genetically enhanced superfreak chameleon, is too large a topic. I need more time with The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Sophie's Choice (1982) and Silkwood (1983), in particular. Perhaps I should write a book. For disparate reasons all three are deserving of chapter length essays.

For now, some general observations about this time period and the first of Streep's collaborations with director Fred Schepisi (Plenty).

Chameleonidae Erotica

Streep's penchant for shape shifting, particularly in the vocal arena, is well known. Though many actors collect several character voices and accents in their life's work, the vocals became an unusually significant part of Streep's mystique not only for her skill (considerable though not always unimpeachable) but for how many she tackled in quick succession. Here's how the 80s went down: British and American for The French Lieutenant's Woman (a neat trick), Streepian for Still of the Night, Polish for Sophie's Choice (insanely great), Oklahoma blue collar for Silkwood ( ♥ ), Streepian (Falling in Love), British again for Plenty (today's topic), Danish for Out of Africa (Hmmm), Ephronish for Heartburn (I haven't yet rewatched), simultaneously soused and hoarse Noo Yawk for Ironweed (freaking marvelous), Australian for A Cry in the Dark (!!!) and honeyed nouveau riche for She-Devil (funny if laboured).

Costumers and makeup artists usually go thankless in the accolades that greet an actor's transformation. That's a real shame. But Streep is the rare actor whose shape shifting is more than just cosmetic. It's literally aided by the shifting of shape. As an actress she uses her whole body. This is most obvious, I think, in Silkwood and Ironweed: Karen Silkwood and Helen Archer don't move like any of Streep's other characters. Watch and marvel.

Which brings us to Streep's life of the body. Though it's largely forgotten now, Streep was once quite a sensual screen presence. Anna and Sarah wield this eroticism carelessly and dangerously in The French Lieutenant's Woman. You don't need the narration in Sophie's Choice to tell you that Sophie escapes her dark thoughts through carnality. It's right there in the performance, in the way she's constantly clinging to her dangerous lover and the way she seems hypnotized when she's caressed. Karen Silkwood is obviously a good lay. Karen Blixen memorably gets her groove on in Out of Africa. In Plenty, based on the play by David Hare, we get the last of the regular erotic within Streep's work. Foregrounded sexuality began to slip away after 1985 with the notable exception of The Bridges of Madison County. If you ask me, Mamma Mia! needed a lot more of this former Streep specialty to justify its plot.

Susan Traherne, French Resistance Badass

Plenty (1985)
We first meet Susan Traherne (Meryl Streep) on a chilly still night in France during World War II. She's all chic war time cool with beret, barked orders (in French!) and loaded guns. But within minutes of meeting a parachuting soldier (Sam Neill) she loses her cool facade. Minutes later she's in bed with him. This, we soon understand, is how she's been living for some time. Her stealth life in an occupied country is full of pretense and fleeting anonymous erotic encounters.

Her new lover receives a morse code the next morning and departs without hesitation or fanfare, leaving her only a memento as reminder. She keeps it with her from then on.

Abruptly we jump forward in time, the war now behind us. Hare's screenplay never clues us in exactly to how far we've jumped ahead and it seems like we're leap frogging whole years. The point, one assumes, is that Susan's life is like this: impressions, momentary diversions, new careers and new lovers.

Susan insinuates herself into the life of a stuffy diplomat (Charles Dance), though we know before she does, that this romance will never satisfy her sexually or romantically. In spirit, if not in social strata, she's closer to the moneyless bohemians she hangs with (including Tracey Ullman in fine form in her first dramatic role). Before long Susan is viciously attacking her lover's vernacular in a fit of boredom
Push off. Bit of a tight corner. One helluva spot.
Afterwards, though she's never apologetic she admits to him that she's not fully present.
I think of France more than I can tell you... I often think of it. People I met for only an hour or two...
And she promptly leaves him. Susan, as we're increasingly aware, is impossible to please. She's always reaching for something new and always unsatisfied with whatever it is she's grabbed hold of -- check out the zombie stare, the careers abandoned the very scene after they're introduced and the continual drift of her conversations.

But reach and grab she does. Her next pitiful capture is Mick (Sting). She wants to get pregnant and she chooses him in no small part because she finds him attractive and disposable (not on her level).

Meryl mounts Sting in a scene that's both chilly and hot... Well played.

She's unapologetic and honest about using him for stud service. It's no surprise that she's on top when they make love. He enjoys her shameless blend of chilly business and hot pleasure. Like the diplomat before him, he's besmitten by her contradictions. Until he isn't.

Susan Traherne is not, as you've probably surmised, a pleasant woman. Plenty remains an underseen curio in Streep's filmography, completely eclipsed in its year by Out of Africa, and some of this is undoubtedly due to Susan as a character. Streep's two collaborations with Fred Schepisi are both on the chilly side but with Lindy Chamberlain in A Cry in the Dark, there was so much electricity in the character work that one hardly needed Streep's usual warmth for entertainment value. Susan Traherne is a less satisfying creation. Schepisi often shoots her in longshot but whenever he zeroes in for a closeup, Susan chooses that moment to drift off which makes for an alienating experience. For Susan's voice, Streep has chosen something like Hollywood Upper Crust British (close your eyes and you can almost hear Audrey Hepburn at times). In the French Resistance framing scenes, there's some strange notes as if Streep is overselling Traherne's former liveliness to contrast it with the bulk of her spiritlessness.

Dance hopes in vain that Streep won't embarrass him at a posh dinner.

Which is not to say that Streep's performance isn't a good watch. In the second half of the film, Susan's deep unhappiness derails her sanity and we get the expected thespian fireworks. At a terrifically savage dinner party, Streep gets one of the best monologues of her career and dives in with beautifully controlled force. At first she's there with the party, making small talk, and then she's floating in her wet dream of France again... wondering what the hell the rest of her life has been for.
Is it getting a bit chilly in here? October nights.

Those poor parachutists I do know how they feel even now. Cities, fields, trees, farms dark spaces, nights. Parachutes open. We descend.
There's a beat there that's just beautifully sad. But Streep's Susan is suddenly aware that she's drifting off and shifts into performance/attack mode towards the diplomats in her presence. She can't maintain this either and retreats to the sensuality of France again. It's a thrilling seesaw effect.
Of course we were comparatively welcome. I mean, we did make it our business to land in countries where we were wanted. Certainly the men were. Some of the relationships… I can’t tell you. I remember a colleague telling me of the heat of the smell of a particular young girl. The hot wet smell he said and nothing since...

Nothing since then.
At this point Susan is despair and fury, aware that she's killed the party and furious that her life is filled with only these parties and these people she feels infinitely superior to.
I can’t see the Egyptian girls somehow -- No, not in Egypt. Not now. I mean there were broken hearts when we left. I mean there are girls today who mourn Englishmen who died in Dachau – who died naked in Dachau -- men with whom they’d spent a single night.

Well, even for myself , I do like to make a point of sleeping with people I don’t know. I find once you get to know them you don’t want to sleep with them anymore.
At this, her emasculated husband loses his patience "Please can you stop? Can you stop fucking talking for fucking minutes on end". (Which is, I suspect, what people who don't thrill to Great Acting are thinking at this very moment should they ever stumble upon this movie). Streep's lacerating ugly response
Well I would stop. I would stop. I would fucking stop talking if I ever heard anybody else say anything else worth fucking stopping talking for!
Sir John Gielgud, surveying Streep's wreckage, announces his departure from the party, ending the festivities with a delicious Ingmar Bergman barb. The scene comes with the added jolt of recognition: you're finally watching Streep share the scene with an actor who isn't the least bit intimidated by her legend or her pyrotechnics. Streep even turns her back to the camera as if she's passed him the baton.

If I know Sir John Gielgud and Meryl Streep they were both fully aware that the movie was in a bit of tight corner, a helluva spot. If it didn't get livelier, the audience was going to push off. I bet they had a grand laugh in their trailers afterwards.

Streep retrieves the baton from Gielgud as he exits and in truly inspired fashion reveals an almost orgasmically present Susan, inexplicably giddy from her public breakdown. She's alive. She's ready for another round. She invites the alarmed guests back to the dinner table.
Why not, we have plenty?


Next: A Cry in the Dark
Previously: Julia, The Deer Hunter, Kramer Vs. Kramer

Welcome to the Academy Emily Blunt, Emily Blunt

It's that time of year again when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka AMPAS aka The Oscars) invites more Hollywood peeps to join them. In Contention shares the list and rather than repeat the whole thing for you or reiterate last year's first time nominees who are mostly invited (you remember them), I'd just like to pinpoint a few random names I'm especially happy / surprised to see so recognized. They are...
  • Emily Blunt who should've been nominated for The Devil Wears Prada.
  • James Franco ... was it the Milk snub?
  • Hugh Jackman did such a fine job as host. Now that he's a member so there's one more vote for the next time Nicole Kidman gives a brilliant performance. Woot!
  • Jane Lynch is always a comic highlight. Her inclusion delights me
  • Jeffrey Wright still needs a movie role as good as his part in Angels in America
  • Howard A Rodman the screenwriter of Savage Grace. I liked that movie a lot but invitations such as this always remind me that one can't truly know the inner workings of the Academy unless you're working its inners. Who knew that anyone in Hollywood would watch that movie? Ah, he's currently a nominee for the WGA's Board of Directors.
  • Mandy Walker who lensed Australia and got the snub
  • Brendan Gleeson who is always solid. Go In Bruges
  • Clint Mansell is one of the best composers working with two classic film scores already under his belt and his latest Moon currently in theaters (review). But they'll have to invite a lot more composers like him to get the music branch to open up their minds a bit. They're so averse to new composers, so strange in their rulings, and so "default nominee" oriented.

Clint Mansell makes beautiful music

Hamlet is a Tragedy No More...

...for it brings Jude Law to the New York stage. Yes!

---> "Yes you will see Hamlet for the 17th time*, Nathaniel. By royal decree!"

Every year I vow to be done with Shakespeare but the movie stars keep roping me back in. You know my feelings here. To sum up: there are 1000s of brilliant old plays by 100s of great playwrights; we are rarely presented with anything but 37 by 1. Even here in NYC. Yes we occasionally get a revival by someone whose name doesn't rhyme with Schmakeschmeare. But more often than not it's Romeo & Juliet or Twelfth Night and Hamlet above all else.

In fact I just saw Hamlet for the 16th time last year with Michael Stuhlbarg as the Prince of Denmark. (Stuhlbarg is a well regarded stage actor but he's getting his first substantial shot at a movie career as the lead in the next Coen Bros picture, A Serious Man). I have yet to see Anne Hathaway in Twelfth Night in the Park but I shall. I've heard only fine things and she's co-starring with three of Broadway's best: Audra McDonald (somebody cancel Private Practice so she'll be able to do more musicals again, please), Julie White (Shia's mom in Transformers, sigh) and Raúl Esparza, he of the can't-win-a-TONY-even-though-i'm-usually-better-than-my-competition problem.

But back to the man at hand.

Kathleen Turner and Jude Law (TONY nominee) as
incestuous mother & son in Indiscretions (1995)

Starting in September, Jude Law will be working the boards as the troubled Dane. He's already done so to great acclaim across the Atlantic. He'll force me to endure my umpteenth Hamlet. I am so very tired of Prince Hamlet but I have yet to tire of Sir** David Jude Law. And he hasn't been on the Broadway stage since before he was a celebrity, so it'll be an event. Last time he caused quite a ruckus taking a bath for Kathleen Turner live on stage eight times a week, long before he did the same for Matt Damon in The Talented Mr Ripley, igniting his movie stardom.

* I haven't really seen Hamlet 16 times. But it feels like it.
** He isn't knighted yet but you know he will be. Give him another 20 years.

Do The Right Thing, 20th Anniversary

Today is the 20th Anniversary of Spike Lee's classic joint Do The Right Thing. There are a few retrospective interviews about the landmark film over at The Root. I'd include them here for you but their embed code leaves much to be desired.

I had no idea that Barack & Michelle Obama saw this on their first date together. But they apparently don't talk about that much. The movie was a hot potato back then and apparently still gives some people hot flashes today. But it's quite good. Have you seen it? I wonder if it would have made Oscar's shortlist if they had had 10 Best Picture nominees that year.

Maybe not. They didn't even nominate Malcolm X in 1992 and that's right in the Academy zone (epic biopic spanning the life of very famous individual who dies tragically). The nominees deemed better than Do The Right Thing for 1989 were:
  • Born on the 4th of July
  • Dead Poet's Society
  • Driving Miss Daisy
  • Field of Dreams
  • My Left Foot
Ouch. But I'm not big on the 1989 Oscars in general. They weren't kind to The Fabulous Baker Boys or sex, lies and videotape or Heathers. In short: Oscar was feeling old and creaky that year. They were drunk on geritol and had no time for fresh unruly voices and plenty of love for sentiment and nostalgia.

Still, I remember being shocked -- SHOCKED -- that Kim Basinger, whom I'd never thought of as a tastemaker per se, spoke out against AMPAS for excluding it in the Best Picture race... and she did so on the actual Oscar broadcast. She did so while wearing a dress she might have borrowed from Wendy & Lisa. Well, she was all up in Prince's grill in the early 90s, don'cha know.


First and Last: first image after the opening credits (very very famous opening but we've just missed it here) and last image before the credits roll

Can you name the movie?

If you can't highlight for the answer here... JAWS by Steven Spielberg. more games? hit the label below.

Monday, June 29, 2009

My Sister's Keeper and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

<-- One day Katey and I will upgrade with a greenscreen and a better mic (one day!) so I've visualized a greenscreen effect here. I've added magic Transformers symbols behind us... just for fun. I feel like I need magical decoding symbols to understand the Transformers phenomenon. What do millions upon millions upon millions of people see in Michael Bay's "films"? In less than one week's time it's already the #3 movie of the year and will easily slaughter the numbers for the beautiful Up and the entertaining Star Trek. *sniffle*

2009 Top Ten (thus far)
  1. Up $250 and climbing
  2. Star Trek $246 and winding down
  3. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen $200 in just five days
  4. Monsters vs. Aliens $195
  5. The Hangover $183 and climbing
  6. X-Men Origins: Wolverine $177
  7. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian $163 and winding down
  8. Fast and Furious $155
  9. Paul Blart: Mall Cop $146
  10. Taken $144
Michael Bay is truly a god of carnage. Unfortunately the cinema is his target. I feel like someone should block my access to box office sites. In this case, ignorance might be bliss and it's cheaper than anti-depressants.

Ah, but I exaggerate for effect. I didn't actually see the giant robots so I'm just assuming that it's as terrible and its success as disheartening as the hilariously hateful reviews indicate. Katey did see it and she despairs at me herein. We also review My Sister's Keeper, Cameron Diaz's cancer weepie. It's a total grumpfest on the vodcast today.

Peter Parker TBA

I keep meaning to give you updates on Spider-Man:Turn Off the Dark, the 2010 Broadway musical. It keeps slipping my mind. Perhaps it's a psychological entertainment defense mechanism because the project seems like such a potential stinker. A superhero musical? Even if you can imagine the songs in your head (I can't), one wonders how the stage craft can manage webslinging and swinging? It better look better than the vine work in Broadway's Tarzan, he said gagging.

Two of the three principal roles have been cast so it's time to discuss.

Alan Cumming the Broadway Diva, X-Man, Gay Celebrity and Fragrance Hawker will be playing The Green Goblin. That seems like an inspired choice to me and I smell another TONY nod unless this things a disaster. Will this role make Cumming the first actor to have played two different famous characters within the Marvel Universe?

Kirsten Dunst might want to warn the new Mary Jane -- that'd be Evan Rachel Wood -- that playing Spider-Man's girl can be a thankless chore. If you're in New York next spring and you can part with $100+, you'll be able to hear the young star belting live. I only hope that Bono and The Edge (they're doing the song score), give her an 11th hour number called "Tiger". I also hope the book writer doesn't let Mary Jane swing towards the mopey on stage. Y'all know I love Kiki (an unpopular affection to be sure) but the Spider-Man film franchise didn't do her many favors when they decided to make MJ a sadder and less sassy girlfriend than she was in the comic books.

Julie Taymor (Frida, Across the Universe) is directing this unwieldy beast. She was buried in an avalanche of praise when she brought The Lion King to the stage many years back but can "it can't be done!" lightning strike twice?

They still haven't announced who is playing Spider-Man himself, though tickets are already on pre-sale. One wonders if the producers will choose a Broadway star for Peter Parker or shove another movie name without stage experience into the mix ... though if they do spend the money for a name one will also have to wonder why an already expensive Broadway production would pay for a "name" when the production itself comes with instant pre-sale name recognition.


The Big Picture on idiotic soundbites this week. Michael Bay's is a real dumbass doozy
Pictures for Sad Children "a famous person has died"
StinkyLulu Supporting Actress Smackdown 1983
my internet is where... has fallen in hate with Leonardo DiCaprio
Erik Lundegaard charts out the Best Picture Box Office problem... we've been talking about this for a long time. It's a beast of a problem and quite complicated... though the simplest explanation is that the moviegoing public is no longer interested in dramas (preferring just about any other genre) and Oscar still loves dramas most of all.

/Film Steven Spielberg, Oldboy and a complicated lawsuit
Thompson on Hollywood The Hurt Locker. Could the movie and its director Kathryn Bigelow factor into the Oscar race?
In Contention "the more the merrier?" Oscar's new inclusivity. I hadn't even thought of the voting block problem. Yikes. I'm going to have nightmares

Salma Hayek's Greatest Performance


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Take a Vow of Celibacy for Celluloid!

And if you're not needle averse... perhaps a tattoo of your favorite director.

I had totally forgotten about this roll call moment from John Waters' Cecil B Demented (2000) and I lurve it. Unfortunately the movie isn't as strong as its concept. It doesn't help that Melanie Griffith stars and doesn't seem to be in on the joke in the way Kathleen Turner was in Serial Mom. But it's Melanie Griffith, what can you do?

The highlight of the film: Alicia Witt as porn star Cherish. Around this time I really thought Witt was going to become a big star. But then she lost the Mary Jane role in Spider-Man and nothing ever seemed to fully ignite in that career. Runner up: Maggie Gyllenhaal (she sports the Kenneth Anger tattoo) as "Raven" slapping Melanie Griffith because Satan told her to. That's something I feel everyone should do when they're in a film with Melanie, whether or not Satan requests it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

First and Last #21

The first image after the title and the last image before the credits scroll

Can you name the movie?
Highlight for the answer: It's Pawel Pawlikowsky's MY SUMMER OF LOVE (2004) with cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski. The film that introduced most of us to Emily Blunt.
for more guessing challenges hit the label below.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Academy Determined To Undermine Self

Just as the news of "10 Best Pictures" finally began to sink in the Academy announces a possibly even more idiotic move -- no honorary awards presented on the big night. As Edward Copeland points out, this means Old Hollywood legends will no longer be recognized for their contributions to the industry. No Hersholt. No Thalberg. No Honorary. They get a separate dinner. Aside from a few saints and cineastes among their ranks, Hollywood is already terrible about preserving, honoring and acknowledging their rich history (unless they're trying to cannibalize it for pointless remakes) The special prizes were one of the only ways that younger audiences could connect today's stars and movies to the rich and important history of the cinema. Sometimes they stupidly included too many of these specials, inflating the running time but at least one honorary award should be there. It's like a family reunion. The grandparents have to be in the photo along with the little children... that's the only way you get a complete portrait of the family.

The Academy seems to have lost all confidence in itself and for what rational reason? It's inevitable that ratings would decline. No matter what changes were made, they would never not have declined. It's a different time. There are hundreds of channels and hundreds of televised events where you can gawk at celebrities. Rather than trying desperately to recapture something that cannot be recaptured and to convince people who don't care about awards or movies to tune in (helpful clue: they won't) how about respecting your history by making a broadcast that pleases people who care about the things you're rewarding. There's still a lot of those people.

Want to shorten the broadcast? IT'S EASY. WE'VE ALL BEEN SAYING IT FOR YEARS: CUT 2 or 3 OF THOSE ENDLESS MONTAGES! Bingo. Saved ten minutes right there with no damage done to the integrity of the night. You'll probably read elsewhere about changes to the song category. They aren't that drastic all told. It's similar to the voting structure already in place only a bit stricter and you might have years with only 2 nominees instead of 3 to 5. Given that they didn't even consider "The Wrestler" (great song) good enough to qualify with last year's lower standards... I can't imagine what horrors they'll perpetrate now. I don't understand why the category isn't cancelled altogether. Song writing really has very little to do with the craft of filmmaking. Bingo! You've saved another 15 minutes from the show with no damage done to the integrity of the night. I've already saved the Academy 25 minutes of air time with no drastic changes.

David Poland is right
This is classic over-responding to a problem in one case and crazy responding to another.
If they announce that they're going to cut the tech awards like Costume Design or Art Direction I'm going to fucking lose it. I feel like we're on suicide watch and the Academy offices are overflowing with razors and pills.

The Amelia Trailer Has Landed

Hilary Swank is flying right at her third Oscar nomination.

I fear she'll use the red carpet as her landing strip and slice me to bits with her propellor. On purpose!

While I think the Amelia trailer is trying a little too desperately to make this seem action-packed -- the music and the sound mix in particular are screaming "it's not just a stuffy period biopic. We swear!" -- it looks right up Oscar's alley all told:
  • Inspirational. Check!
  • True story. Check!
  • Tragic ending. Check!
  • Iconic Historical Figure Everyone Is Duty Bound To Love. Check!
I wouldn't put this on Oscar's best picture list just yet but who knows. People are already getting carried away claiming locks for dozens of pictures that haven't opened yet. I remind once again: 10 nominees, not 50 ;)

I like the timbre of Swank's voice in the trailer. I must admit. I've clearly underestimated her in my Best Actress predictions (my excuse: previously she'd been less than convincing in period pieces) for she manages just fine for these 113 seconds. Oscar prediction updates coming on Sunday.

Earlier this year when I was watching Night at the Museum ... Resurrection, Salvation, 2 (?) ... I was giggling to myself about how Amy Adams was practically starting Hilary Swank's Oscar campaign for her. Like "See how important and strong this woman was, Americans who always fail history tests ?!? Now that I've reminded you who she is, won't it be awesome to see her biopic this fall?!?"

The happiest moment of the trailer for me was seeing EWAN MCGREGOR again.

I'm always pleased to watch him. But I'm sad that his only "prestige" films these days seem to be biopics which pair him with my least favorite actresses in thankless roles wherein he helps their character achieve greatness (see also: Miss Potter). I'm even sadder that now he's asked to do this without so much as a title card in the trailer. Sigh. He needs another Moulin Rouge! sized hit quickly.

Open Discussion

Friday... let it all out. Say something cinematic in the comments.

I'll start with a few errant thoughts. 1) I'm terrified about what might come next for Oscar. 2) I'm also thinking about how nice it would be if I had the power of jumpcuts or dissolves in real life... I'd like to be able to get rid of bad takes and just jump ahead to a future scene, you know? 3) Why do Quentin Tarantino & The Weinstein's annoy me so much when I tend to love the Tarantino movies. Don't talk about future plans and tv series and sequels and extended cuts before a movie is out. Just freaking finish your movie and let us see how we like it first. I'm grumpy!

Streep Noms, #6 (1985)

A Note: I will be returning to reviewing Streep movies soon but for now let's return to discussing Streep's competitive Oscar fields. I'll try to wrap up the 80s pictures very soon. I knew this month would be Streep heavy I had no idea how mired down in the 80s nostalgia we'd get. See also: Farrah & Michael Jackson.

Six Oscar nominations is a lot for anyone but what is perhaps even more impressive / serendipitous about Meryl Streep's 1985 accomplishment is that Out of Africa, a big hit and Oscar champ, was her third Best Picture winner in seven years. That's quite rare. She would go on to lose Best Actress to Geraldine Page who was, at that time, the most nominated performer (8) never to have won the golden boy (Peter O'Toole now holds the record since he lost on his 8th nomination). Page died a scant 15 months later at 62 years of age. She is one of only five women in the history of the Oscars to have won this prize after the age of 60, the most recent being Helen Mirren in The Queen. I've been meaning to write about Ms. Page for two years now. Really must get to that soon.

To this day I have never seen Geraldine Page's Oscar winning performance though my best friend considers it one of the most moving he's ever seen. I think Page is spectacularly good in Sweet Bird of Youth and Interiors and terrible in Summer and Smoke (her three other Best Leading Actress nominations) so I'm curious. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. At the time I wanted Meryl to win. Now, my heart unquestionably belongs to Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo for 85's gold medal.

the nominees were...
  • Anne Bancroft, Agnes of God
  • Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple (Globe winner)
  • Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams
  • Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful (watch her win)
  • Meryl Streep, Out of Africa
More '85 Ladies for context: There were many snubs since it was a rich year for leading ladies but only two snubs if you go by media attention and awards traction. Kathleen Turner won the comedy Globe for Best Picture nominee Prizzi's Honor but went on to experience her third high profile Oscar snub in the first five meteoric years of her career (the Academy never loved her though audiences instantly did). The other snub was Cher in Mask, which prompted her famous confrontational quip at the actual ceremony
As you can see, I did receive my Academy handbook on how to dress like a serious actress
But snubs are often blessings in disguise. The Mask diss probably helped Cher win for Moonstruck in 1987 (we'll get to 1987 next week).

1985 also featured Norma Aleandro in The Official Story (a foreign hit and she was the NYFCC winner), Coral Browne in Dreamchild (zero awards traction but a fine turn), Kelly McGillis in Witness and the following comedy Globe nominees: Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo, Glenn Close in Maxie, Rosanna Arquette in Desperately Seeking Susan and Sally Field in Murphy's Romance.

Tom Baxter: We'll live on love. We'll have to make some concessions, but so what? We'll have each other
Cecilia: That's movie talk.
What's your ideal Oscar lineup in 1985? Were you born yet?

Links Run Amok

Hollywood Reporter I guess turnabout is fair play and Hollywood is always remaking Asian films. Zhang Yimou is going to remake the Coen Bros debut film Blood Simple. Er... good luck
Bright Lights After Dark reminds us that not everyone loves the legendary Pauline Kael as a critic. 'She didn't "get" the 60s' is the claim here.
Socialite Life Harrison Ford and Rachel McAdams to co-star in Morning Glory (not a remake of the Katharine Hepburn Oscar winner
Empire Watchmen getting rereleased... and it's even longer now? (gulp)
Topless Robot remembers the geek side of Farrah Fawcett's career
Twitch Audition, one of the scariest movies I've ever seen, is getting a 10th anniversary DVD edition with extras

Splash Page fan made Spider-Man 4 posters. Eliza Dushku as the Black Cat? Yes, please
Mike Lynch 200 characters from Dick Tracy. Does anyone besides me wish the movie version had had a sequel?
Billy Loves Stu Brad Pitt (Cutting Class) and the vagaries of fame

More takes on the Oscar's Best Picture nominee doubling
AV Club pros & cons
Nick's Flick Picks with charts of what 1999-2008 might have looked like. We should probably do this here at some point. So many projects!
Movies Kick Ass 'Oscar Should Wait'
Risky Business Oscar's Decathlon

Transformers Revenge of the Fallen reviews > Transformers Revenge of the Fallen
Kim Morgan suggests that Bay is an idiot savant surrealist. She thinks he needs to embrace/realize it
James Rocchi "And no, I can't shut my brain off and have fun, anymore than I could rip out my tongue and enjoy a meal, because my brain is where I feel fun."
Peter Bradshaw "like watching paint dry while getting hit over the head with a frying pan"
Timothy Brayton Robots in Disgust
Cinematical absurdities they love


First and Last: first image following the opening credits and the last image before the fadeout

Can you name the movie?
Of course you can it's... [highlight for answer]: Francis Ford Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) with Oscar nominated cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth. The movie that should have won Kathleen Turner the Oscar!

for more quizzes, click the "first and last" label below

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chéri and Other Newbies

Some thoughts on Chéri (it's finally open!) and My Sister's Keeper are over at my weekly column at Towleroad. Feel free to comment there if you'd like. I've been accused of being "highbrow" for my lack of interest in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. If mistrusting Michael Bay means I'm highbrow I plead "GUILTY as charged" I mean... robots who speak jive?

As for Chéri and My Sister's Keeper, I'll have more on both of those movies up in the next couple of days. Stay tuned.

Michael Jackson 1958-2009 (RIP)

I don't know what to say... two pop culture icons lost in one day. I was leaving for the movies when I first heard the news (then but a rumor) so I'm just catching up now. Like many pop stars Michael Jackson wanted to be in movies and the Peter Pan obsession in particular was one he never shied away from expressing. His Steven Spielberg / Peter Pan project never happened -- well it did but without songs and without Michael Jackson and in a different form altogether -- and neither did the movies. But, like Madonna, he was a mammoth small screen star by way of the music video.

And a mammoth star in general.

I can't say that I was ever a big fan and the sordid tabloid problems turned me off as much as anyone but it was hard to live through the 70s or 80s without having some connection to his work. Here are four of my favorites from his oeuvre. I'm not claiming they're necessarily his best but they're four that mean something to me personally or bring back vivid good memories.

And finally Liberian Girl and Leave Me Alone. I include these not because they have special significance to me but because they perfectly illustrate Michael Jackson's obsession with celebrity in general and the family he found in other celebrities. There are tons of stars in the first video (including Olivia Newton John & John Travolta "acting" together!) and it's dedicated to Elizabeth Taylor, the lone Jackson obsession to which I can fully relate. She's one of the true immortals. La Liz also factors heavily into the second video.

Madonna's statement...

Well said.

Suggested reads
Towleroad have you heard Jay Brannan's sung tribute? It's beautiful
Arjan Writes is shocked
Roger Ebert has a great piece
The Disney Blog remembers Captain Eo
fourfour Rich is as readable as ever
If all the shit that he went through couldn't knock Thriller, Off the Wall, Bad and, to whatever degree, Dangerous and HIStory out of our hearts, minds and asses, a little thing like death isn't going to, either.
Scanners investigates the mask and the problems with adult stardom
IFC Daily collects the web obits
Gawker collects the headlines. God, the NY Post is an embarrasment
A Socialite's Life collects the celebrity reactions

Farrah Fawcett, 1947-2009 (RIP)

Somewhere you can hear Charlie's disembodied voice weeping for an Angel passing. I mean that in the kindest non-snarkiest way in case anyone misreads. If you lived through the 70s or 80s you will undoubtedly have at least a small place in your heart for the seminal Charlie's Angels cast and probably Farrah Fawcett in particular. She got the most mileage from the show, career wise, probably by exiting it so very quickly. Smart girl. I preferred Jaclyn Smith as a child and then Cheryl Ladd but now in retrospect I'm totally a Kate Jackson man. Yet through it all, personal preferences aside, it was Farrah who emerged as the true superstar among them.

She died this morning at 62, losing her long battle with cancer.

Farrah provided me with my first fully conscious ideas about the divide between TV stars and Movie Stars: TV stars were part of the fabric of every day life, movie stars were more godlike, unattainable celebrities for the special occasions. TV stars were famous for the character they played, movie stars for playing themselves. Etcetera. The divide was much clearer before, say, the 90s. But I remember feeling sort of weirdly proud of her when she was "promoted" to movies very very briefly for Extremities (1986) --which I didn't even see! -- after people suddenly realized she could act after her "deglam" abused wife role in The Burning Bed, a major television event in 1984. Farrah was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Emmy for the Bed role, arguably the peak of her career, though she had amazing capacity for staying famous.

Rest in peace, Farrah.

Our hearts go out to her family and especially to Ryan O'Neal her life partner for the past three decades, himself a 70s superstar. They had that in common though Ryan's fame was from the other side of the divide. He hasn't been a major movie presence since the early 80s but he was a true A Lister in the 70s as Barbra Streisand's two-time sparring partner (What's Up Doc? and The Main Event), Peter Bogdanovich's preferred muse (Paper Moon, Nickelodeon) and star of the Oscar Best Picture nominees Love Story and Barry Lyndon.

Do You Like To Look At James Marsden?

JA from MNPP here, asking y'all to raise your hand if the answer to that is yes (And to raise both if it's hell yes and preferably while he's in the nude or in the act of becoming in the nude). What about Cameron Diaz? I assume there will be slightly fewer hands if I judge the crowd I speak to correctly, so let's go back to James Marsden.

See, the trailer for Richard Kelly's The Box - an adaptation of the Richard Matheson short story titled "Button Button" - which has been looooooong awaited by me (I figured out last week that the first time I posted on this movie was in the Summer of 2006!) and other Kelly fans is finally online today, and there is lots of lovely Marsden to behold. Watch it here. No, he's not nude or in the act of becoming nude. Sad face. But he does appear to be wet a lot, so there's a silver lining in that.

And if you'd like to have a still picture of Jimmy to print out and frame and hang on the wall over your bed to whisper your thoughts and deepest longings and holiest prayers to before you go to sleep, you can find a slew of screengrabs from said trailers with plenty o' Marsden over at MNPP. Dreamy.

The Box didn't make our final "We Can't Wait" Countdown here at TFE earlier this year, but it was on my list of orphans. I care! You know what my other two orphans were, for the record? Pixar's Up and Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon. Damn straight. The former has been released to much love already, while the latter won the freaking Palm d'Or at Cannes, so I think I just proved you should listen to me. I have proven my worth. Yes, the rumors are true. I rule.

Besides Marsden and Diaz The Box has got a Frank Langella (well half of him anyway). The film is scheduled to come out - for real! - on October 30th, 2009. Whee!


First and Last: the first image after the opening credits (I think) and the last image prior to the closing credits (I think... this movie is mainstream traditional but the credits are oddly stretched out... Not that that will help with your guessing)

Can you name the movie?
Highlight for the answer:
This is the Best Picture nominee and blockbuster THE FUGITIVE (1993) with Oscar nominated cinematography by Michael Chapman

for more quizzes, click the "first and last" label below

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

10 Best Pictures? Reactions and the Star Trek / Up Situation

Like presumably many of you I talked to a lot of people today about the new Oscar rule which will bring us 10 Best Picture nominees instead of 5. Reaction seems to be divided between "yes! it'll be more inclusive and exciting" and "yikes. it'll still suck only now it will signify less".
Take this Academy voter from the member at large branch reacting to the news today (I trust the source who asked and then conveyed her response):
I personally like it when it’s more open to people. That’s going to be terrific. But the only problem is that they should increase the nominees of Best Actor and Best Actress only to make it fairer
Yikes. She wants more nominees elsewhere, too? How will we be able to make fun of the Globe and BFCA excesses if AMPAS does the same thing? And if the Academy keeps adding won't it turn into the EMMYs with so many categories that winning them seems an inevitability if you just keep at it and work the right type of series movies.

Another Academy member (from the technical branches) that I contacted myself was not at all pleased. He said:
These days it is difficult to find 5 films, much less 10, that are worthy of an Academy nomination. A cynical person might deduce that having 10 nominations is the only way the studios can garner a few nominations. Don't we already have the People's Choice Awards?
My line of thought falls closer to this more cynical thought. Box office has always been its own reward. Why are people always so adamant that blockbusters need statues too? I agree that they sometimes deserve them but I also believe with all my heart that the only reason that people are so adamant that they deserve so many and so angry at their annual snubs is that these are the films that have been seen. It's not necessarily because they're the best. It's because they're available to have opinions about. If you expand anyone's film viewing to include not just the 10 biggest hits of the year, chances are you expand the idiosyncracies as to what each person considers "best". I don't think the problem with the Oscars has been their love for smaller movies. The problem is their (collective) general lack of imagination in what constitutes quality. Quality can be found anywhere: small movies, big movies, medium sized movies and within any genre. Choosing a good subject for a movie can give you a leg up towards quality but subject matter and tone (seriousness) ≠ Quality.

Star Trek is not a contender. There's at least 20 more typically Oscar
viable features on the way. Up on the other hand probably is.

I bring all this up because I'm a little bewildered as to why people think this will mean a great deal of popcorn in the Best Picture field. Take E! Online mentioning Star Trek (2009) (and The Hangover as Best Picture possibilities. Sid Ganis didn't announce 100 nominees for Best Picture, he announced 10. Comedies and light sci-fi are still not going to be towards the top of Oscar's wish list. Why would they start loving genres they've never loved if they double their nominees? If you double your nominees you might see one or two universally acclaimed hits nominated along with December's limited releases that were greenlit with gold statuary in mind but those popcorn pictures will still have to feel prestigious in some way to make the cut. Therefore, Star Trek is out. It's from a franchise that has been around for 40 years. It's silly and fun. Up is also silly and fun but it's got that undeniably moving opening and a resonant contemporary theme and Pixar itself IS a prestige element. So Up is probably in.

My killjoy point is this: don't get your hopes up for the blockbusters. No matter how many websites start becoming convinced that The Hangover and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince will be competing on March 7th for the industry's top prize, they won't. Mostly the expanded competitive field will just mean more slots for the type of movies Oscar likes to nominate i.e. serious dramas, message movies, period pieces, war films and films that smell of prestige in some way (lauded source material, famous auteurs, you know the type). Look at what the NBR and the BFCA put in their top ten lists whilst hoping to predict the Oscars. Yes, occassionally a blockbuster or "fun" movie will pop up in there but it's still the anomaly. They announced a doubling of the nomination slots, not a transfusion of their own tastes.

P.S. I'll be updating my Oscar predictions Sunday since we clearly all need to rethink this year's competition.

Shocking Oscar News: And Then There Were Ten

In one of the strangest developments in decades of Oscar watching, AMPAS has suddenly decided to change the number of Best Picture nominees back to 10, stating
After more than six decades, the Academy is returning to some of its earlier roots, when a wider field competed for the top award of the year,” said Ganis. “The final outcome, of course, will be the same – one Best Picture winner – but the race to the finish line will feature 10, not just five, great movies from 2009.”
Ganis assumes that all ten nominees will be great. What an optimist, he is!

We haven't seen 10 Best Pictures nominess since 1943 (Casablanca won... definitely one of Oscar's smartest moments). They settled on the traditional five for the 1944 film year and it's stayed that way ever since.

This could mean that anything remotely "baity" will get nominated each year. We're in for whole lineups consisting of the Frost/Nixons, Seabiscuits, and Finding Neverlands of the world, whole lineups populated with Doubts: films that inexplicably win favor over superior films or films which aren't really good enough to be in the running but all the prestige elements are in place.

I can only assume the recent snubs for critically beloved and audience supported films like WALL•E and The Dark Knight have finally started embarrassing the Academy. But widening the field doesn't necessarily mean that the quality or box office tallies rise with it. What a pessimist I am.

Last year for example, who knows what it would have looked like. It seems like these eight would have made it...

We don't know for sure. The anti-genre voters are still anti-genre (i.e. they can't take animation, comedy, superheros, horror and sci-fi seriously, always equating "message" and traditional drama with quality) no matter how wide the ballot gets.

But perhaps this does mean that less traditional genre leaning films that got some awards traction like Dancer in the Dark (better than any nominated film in 2000), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (better than any nominated film in 2004), A History of Violence (better than most of the nominated films of 2005) or WALL•E (better than any nominated film in 2008) have a better shot at the big honor? Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. We'll see.

It sure makes predicting things this year suddenly more challenging. We've never seen the outcome of the shotgun approach to Best Picture nominating in our lifetimes. Will this change last longer than their sudden new category for "original comedy score" -- one of their more bizarre decisions -- which lasted from 1995 through 1998?