Wednesday, November 30, 2005

NBR Predictions and Oscar Updates

A storm warning. Last year the National Board of Review used their oft dismissed but actually powerful "first!" status among Oscar precursors to start the drumbeats for... Finding Neverland ? Yes, sometimes the NBR uses their power for evil. But like Joe said to me the other night -- Paraphrasing: 'You can't really bag on the Globes or the NBR because they throw such interesting wrenches into the system.' So true. Without bizarre calls or deserving but surprise entries from the precursors the Oscar race would be much duller. So will the NBR use their dubious powers for evil (Geisha) or for good (Brokeback) this year? My guess is a little of both.

My NBR predictions? Watch me flail about -they're so unknowable.
New Oscar Updates? Right here.

Hump Day Hottie: Gong Li

As a peace offering to those readers offended by my dismissal of Memoirs of a Geisha, I stop for a moment to honor the enduring beauty and exquisite talents of Gong Li. I know. I know. I'm supposed to call her Li Gong now since all the Asian stars are starting to rebill themselves with their names flipped in the American order. But I can't part with 15 years of habit that easily when it comes to one of the world greats.

Fifteen years you say, incredulously? Yes. For those just marvelling at the Gong Li magic for the first time due to the Geisha hoopla, 2005 marks a major comeback for this once dominant Chinese superstar. Think people are enthused about Ziyi Zhang these past few years? That ain't nothing compared to the lusty fuss over Gong Li in the 1990s. She was ubiquitous in the films of Zhang Yimou, at your local arthouse, and in Academy Award nominated foreign films.

Any of these six titles are great places to start if you want to fall under her spell for the first time (or all over again): Ju Dou (1990) --one of Memoirs of a Geisha's most beautiful camera shots, the fabric in the water, is like a lift or tribute (intentional or not, I don't know) to this movie. Raise the Red Lantern (1991) was her second consecutive appearance in an Oscar nominated foreign film. The Story of Qui Ju (1992) won her the first of her two Chinese Oscars known as "Golden Roosters" and delivered the Best Actress trophy at the Venice Film Festival, too. Farewell My Concubine (1993) was arguably her most famous film in America. It received two Oscar nominations and also generated much buzz for a supporting actress nomination for Gong Li herself (it didn't come to pass but she did receive the NYFCC prize). To Live (1994) won the BAFTA for foreign film and was a Golden Globe nominee. And Shanghai Triad (1995), won an Oscar nomination for cinematography. It helps to have a subject as breathtaking as Gong Li to shoot if you're a DP.

Previous Hump Day Hotties for your distraction... Madonna, Cillian Murphy, Rachel McAdams, Jake, Madonna, & "Give 'Em Hell" Harry, Orlando Bloom, Lady Tottington, Daniel Craig, Viggo & Maria , Emmanuelle Béart, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Fiennes & Weisz

Dress Them Up

Here's something strangely paradoxical about my filmfandom vs. my personal life: I am not remotely interested in clothing in real life (pair of jeans and a t-shirt will do fine, thanks). But when it comes to the movies, I'm a total fashion fanatic. Give me costumes and cool threads. Give me heaps of them. Let me drown in fabric.

Updated Costume Design Oscar Predictions and Updated Costumer Designers Gallery with new pages devoted to Daniel Orlandi (Cinderella Man, Down with Love, & more) and Marit Allen (Brokeback Mountain, Mermaids & more)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Actual Conversation 11:24 PM --Regarding the New Christopher Guest Mockumentary "For Your Consideration" Which Will Lampoon the Oscar Race

Joe Reid: Can you even wait for For Your Consideration?
Nathaniel R: No. No to the N O. I am not sure I was even this excited for the Star Wars movies as a kid. it's like he's making this movie JUST. FOR. ME.
Joe: And they're adding Ricky Gervais! I'd be worried about too high expectations, but it's not like I didn't expect A Mighty Wind to be awesome either.
Nathaniel: I think this will be the greatest movie of all time.
Joe: Ever.
Nathaniel: Citizen Kane watch out.
Joe: Man, start blogging that kind of talk - you'll wind up on the poster
Nathaniel: I think i should post this right now on the blog. These last few sentences.
Joe: Do it
Nathaniel: Don't think I won't
Joe: Start laying the groundwork.
Nathaniel: must. become. blurb. whore.
Joe: include this: Christopher Guest, Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, and Catherine O'Hara - call me!

Indie Spirit Noms

Indie Spirit Award nominations are here. More later on the site... big boosts for Jeff Daniels in Squid and the Whale, Goodnight and Good Luck, Capote, and Brokeback Mountain. Major slap to Junebug --how did that NOT manage a first feature nomination? Only screenplay and supporting actress when this is the INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS. This awards group continues to be strangely obsessed with big budget mini-majors.... which sorta renders them pointless since there are plenty of awards groups in existence to honor those films. They need to be focusing on true independents. My feeling at least.

Cowboy Fever Part 2

So I have officially begun to worry about Heath Ledger's Oscar prospects for Brokeback Mountain. He has four traditional Oscar pluses to work with. 1) He's starring in a movie that will get nominated for Best Picture. 2) He's doing an accent 3) The film is seen as a turning point in his career and 4) He's sensational in the movie (the quality of a performance does play into the whole Oscar game, even if its never the deciding factor) But he's got several traditional problems.

Vote splitting: His Casanova performance is being called "career rescuing" --which is exactly what early buzz called the Brokeback turn. (How many times in one year can you save your career?), Age: He's 26. That's 1 year younger than Matt Damon when he was the youngest nominees in years for Good Will Hunting. That's 3 years younger than the youngest winner ever (Adrien Brody The Pianist) and much younger than the median nominee age. Fictional: This is the real problem. The one that worries me. For reasons which I've never completely fathomed most awards giving entities believe that portrayals of real people be they living or dead are automatically more impressive than performances of fictional characters. It's not even a point one can argue. It's statistically one of the truest biases year after year after year.

So cross your fingers for Heath and if you're an Academy voter and you love the "real" just think about how lived in and authentic this performance feels. It deserves a high rank on your ballot.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Cowboy Fever

Take a good long look at Montgomery Clift in Howard Hawk's Red River chewing on that straw.

Sure is purty...

See, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal aren't the first gay cowboys and they won't be the last. I offer up Clift for your viewing pleasure for a sort of heat up / cold shower effect. I worry about people's perceptions of Brokeback Mountain.

I worry that gay viewers will expect or need this to be a hotter Marlboro Man fantasy. That's not what it is. Though Jake and Heath are, like Mr Clift, very easy on the eyes. So, if you're expectations are verging on the obsessive, deep breaths please. All is well but stay calm. You need to be calm to fully appreciate.

I worry that straight viewers will stay away due to the 'gay cowboy' tag --they shouldn't be nervous. Should people actually give this film its due (which is always a question mark with delicate controversial material) it's a surefire Oscar contender and I think the reaction will be pretty universal that it's a moving and successfully intimate epic.

Just about the only common complaint will be that it's slow but this film was directed by Ang Lee. So, well... duh. Do with that what you will. He always takes his time. Brokeback Mountain is a movie that commands your full attention and respect. It's serious and respectful. I hope audiences show the same maturity.

If I Were an Oscar Strategist...

...I'd be planning a full-blown profile raising strategy for my supporting actor. And I'd be doing it RIGHT. NOW. Before all the Christmas films open and suck up all the media attention. During the Geisha blast (since there's no direct competition.) Because, right now this category is just hopelessly even. Someone needs to get a headstart soon or that particular race will turn into a Best Picture only category or a flat popularity contest --by way of default voting habits. In no other category is the race as blurry.

(could get a boost from "career tribute" sentimentality or "we're sorry about [insert snub here]...")
Sutherland, Plummer, Dillon, Jenkins, Giamatti, Langella

(could get a boost from general AMPAS popularity)
Clooney, Rush, Hurt, Hoskins

(will get a boost if their film makes a significant overall impact)
guys from... Munich, The New World, Crash, The Producers, and Syriana

New Oscar Predictions in all major categories will arrive in a couple of days. Supporting Actor I deliver to you early. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Aussie "Spectacular! Spectacular!"

Presenting... our first Best Pic nominee of 2009 --I say '09 because it takes Bazmark aeons to get movies made. grumble. Still "Crowe. Kidman. Luhrmann." um... 'wow' on the starpower should it come to pass. It's like another Eyes Wide Shut marketing campaign waiting to happen.

Them Crazy Geisha

It was not easy to write about Memoirs of a Geisha. I considered numerous angles and finally settled on one focused on the five principal geisha. I could have just as easily taken the standard review route --you know the one; minor background on the production. plot summary. performance notes. overall impression/conclusion. I could have also gone the pure Oscar-minded route since it's the type of film that exists primarily to be considered for them. I also considered focusing on the absolute ickiness of the romantic relationship upon which the film's entire adult plot hinges. Let's hope little kids everywhere aren't falling instantly in love with strangers who happen to offer them candy. Blech. And ewwwww. We're supposed to want to route for this?

My Review

I always refrain from reading reviews or notes until I've finished mine (if I plan to write one that is) but now that I have here are some other people's notes that I found worth reading so click away:

"It’s like watching Asian actors playing white people playing Asian characters." -Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine @ Cinemarati
"Marshall seems to confuse beauty with art." -Emmanuel Levy
"Everyone, say it together now: or-i-en-tal fan-ta-sy!" -Lylee's Blogspot.

There will be many positive words as well for this film during the holiday season from major sources rest assured. Prestigious and beautiful (I'm certainly not arguing that it's not BEAUTIFUL) literary adaptations always get a healthy share of positive reviews.

Dear Oscar Hopeful...

Dear [Insert Name Here],

I know your heart may be pounding, your mouth inexplicably dry. Your friends keep telling you you have a real shot at an Oscar nomination this coming January. If yoga, scientology, or psycho-analytic therapy is not relaxing you whenever the big "O" is mentioned, please repeat the following chant while practicing focused breathing:

Jimmy Stewart "Vertigo". Susan Sarandon "Bull Durham". Cary Grant & Katharine Hepburn "Bringing Up Baby". Jeremy Irons "Dead Ringers". "Isabelle Huppert "The Piano Teacher". Ingrid Bergman "Casablanca". Julianne Moore "Safe". Kathleen Turner "Body Heat". Robert Mitchum "Night of the Hunter". Gene Hackman "The Conversation".

I promise that'll help put it all in perspective. Don't worry so much. History will vindicate you should your worst fear come to pass.

the Film Bitch

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Seven Things

This isn't another shout out to sixthings (my devotion already over-publicized there) but rather one of those chain blog/survey thingies -coming to me via Pfangirl (one of my fav longtime online pals. We met via you know who).

7 Things to do before I die
Figure out how to balance career, hobbies, and personal life
Write a book
Learn Flash animation
Travel to Europe and Asia
Swing on a trapeze
something i haven't even dreamt of yet
Attend the Oscars

7 Things I cannot do
Understand the public's taste in movies
Drink as much water as I'm supposed to
Be mad at my cat
Stop obsessing about movies and actresses
Be offline for more than a week

7 Things that attract me to people

memorable features
good aesthetic taste
expressiveness (physical and emotional)

7 Things I say most often
F@#* (and no, I'm not proud of this at all)
What? (because I often drift away)
I don’t know
truth be told...
"mmmm, can't get enough" (from Heathers)
my back hurts

7 Celebrity Crushes
Because I reveal this all the time in the hump-day-hottie threads, let's go with something less easy for film experience fans to shout along with and say...
7 Non Movie Star Related Crushes of the Fictional or Celebrity Variety
Olivia Newton-John "totally, totally, totally hot"
Nightcrawler (The X-Men)
Anderson Cooper
Prince Charming (Sleeping Beauty)
Lindsay Wagner as The Bionic Woman
Matthew Barney (of Cremaster and Mr. Björk fame)
Iceman (The X-Men)

Now it's your turn, readers. Answer one of any of the categories above. If you have a blog, you have to do them all.

When Johnny Met June

Ray and Walk the Lineare unusually similar in plot construction (traumatizing early experience; the death of a brother haunts genius musician as he rises to fame, falls to addiction, and is rescued by the love of a good woman) and general genre and subject matter (rock-star biopic). So why did I like the Johnny Cash pic so much more than the Ray Charles pic --especially when I'm partial to the Ray music?

There's a few reasons but they mostly end up dovetailing quite neatly into this one: Great chemistry. It's a rare commodity. Reese & Joaquin have it. More movies could use it. Romantic dramas (another genre to which Walk the Line belongs) live and die by it.


True to form I feel (post holiday feasting) about 15 lbs heavier. Since I can't exactly work off the weight typing at my computer read some other people's notes this morning. In the real world the day after Thanksgiving is about shopping for Christmas presents. In the Oscar obsessives world, it signals all paths converging into this one road to the Kodak. So it's an all-Oscar edition of "Other People Like Movies Too"

Defamer on the 'liar liar pants on fire' Cinderella Man Oscar campaign. tsk tsk.
O'Neill @ The Envelope creams himself over Clooney's Oscar position. submissive.
Poland, whom I generally enjoy, keeps tossing crumbs to people who think he's a homophobe (second to last paragraph) --must. resist. sending. angry. mail. But whenever I get mad he writes something really smart like this bit on Gong Li/Renée Zellweger.
OhMyTrill, previously averse to PSH like myself, is also won over by the Capote turn.
Mike Dequina is a Renthead and not afraid to show it. And show it he really does in this review.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Nathaniel Spreads Some Love

HAPPY THANKSGIVING! I have been doing this blog for over one year and my website for more than five. It's sometimes a chore but it's always a pleasure. If you get me? And since you're reading I assume you do. Due to the nature of this holiday I'd like to share with you three things for which I'm thankful (in regards to this film/theater/pop-culture indulgence of mine)

03 ...despite the ever changing worlds o' entertainment, there are still some things you can always depend on: a) A new Woody Allen movie will appear every year. b) Madonna will never go away. God bless. c) There will always be at least one movie (but usually three or four thank God) worth getting obsessed with each year.

02 ...that I live in the greatest city you can imagine. I ♥ NY! It provides me with more access to amusements than I know what to do with.

01 ...that you're still reading from all over the world. This is what amazes me most. You're reading from Australia, Greece, Germany, London, Detroit (motorcityyyy), Uruguay, Chile, Canada, Florida (where I was born), Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Estonia, Cyprus, Slovenia, Argentina, Norway (Ha det på badet), France, Chicago, Turkey, Mexico, Texas, Sweden, Las Vegas, Bombay, Venezuela, Ireland, New Hampshire, Croatia, Spain, Washington, Singapore, Denmark, Brazil (obrigado), Israel, The Phillipines, Finland, Iowa, Japan (私は訪問したい), the Twin Cities, Italy, and more...

And finally, since the American movie world is such a bi-coastal thing you come from all parts of California including Hollyweird. And some of you are just a subway stop away in New York. Which is so creepy, cool. [Please don't stalk me].

I hope you continue to enjoy sharing this experience. Happy Holidays.

Hump Day Hottie: Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone

Well, you knew that was coming, didn't you?

It's been a week of Madonna fabulousity here at the Film Experience. And when it comes to hotties, nobody raises temperatures as quickly. Madonna first caught my eye when she began the Borderline video with that endearing hop kick. By the time she rose up out of the wedding cake at the MTV video awards to sing her new single Like A Virgin, I was a wild-eyed convert. She never lost my attention again. At 47 years old Madonna is still scorching.

Long may she reign. Long may she entertain. She gives good soundtrack to life.

Previous Hump Day Hotties if you're in the mood and just joining us... Cillian Murphy, Rachel McAdams, Jake, Madonna, & "Give 'Em Hell" Harry, Orlando Bloom, Lady Tottington, Daniel Craig, Viggo & Maria , Emmanuelle Béart, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Fiennes & Weisz

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Rent & Syriana

Some of the greatest pieces in any of the arts arrive when an artist bites off more than anyone thought they could ever chew and manages, without gagging, to get the whole thing down. But two new films reminds us that the warning to 'not bite off more than you can chew' is not neccessarily a defeatist damper. Occassionally it is a fair warning meant to prevent choking.

Read the full reviews of Rent and Syriana

Body Heat (1981)

Though I know it impolite or even near-heretical to bag on LA Confidential, as a noir it always struck me as too soft-hearted. For all of its technical merits --and, my but that picture is intoxicating to look at-- the demands of the genre seem to require a bleaker worldview than its happy-ending and femme nonfatale could provide. My preferred modern color noir revival (post-Chinatown) is not this 1997 Best Picture nominee. I'll take the jet black heart of Lawrence Kasdan's Double Indemnity riff, Body Heat (1981) instead.

For uninitiated younger viewers who know Kathleen Turner only from her thicker days on Broadway and supporting roles in films like The Virgin Suicides or William Hurt from tiny supporting bits in The Village or A History of Violence, Kasdan's unrepentantly dark thriller will be a complete jaw-dropper. Both stars were major sex symbols of the 80s and that's largely due to their erotic potency in this fine film. It's not even a hyperbolic stretch to call their mashup one of the hottest pairings the cinema ever witnessed.

But even if their sexual chemistry weren't as legendary as it is the film is strong. The dialogue snaps and crackles. It even alarms with its blunt near-pornographic invitation. The screenplay too is well calibrated to deliver twists and turns aplenty. The tech contributions help you feel the heat with air-conditioners on the fritz and temperatures / libidos blazing. Finally, the actors really sell it. You'll see famous faces from Ted Danson to Mickey Rourke in the background. But it is Kathleen Turner, in one of the most confident film debuts of all time, who steals the movie. This is a performer to reckon with. It's easy while watching Body Heat to be transported back to a time, not so long ago, when Ms. Turner was known as "the definitive female box office commodity" and compared (flatteringly!) to Stanwyck and Garbo.

Previous Editions of Classic Movie of the Week : (for those just joining us) Coming Home (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), The Women (1939), and They Shoot Horses Don't They? (1969). Previous Turner-Enthusiastic Post: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf on Broadway.

Madonna Week: Favorite Songs

My all-time favorite Madonna tunes
in rough and ever-changing order

25 Nobody Knows Me (2003)
24 Sorry (2005)
23 Gone (2000)
22 Bedtime Story (1994)
21 Human Nature (1994)
20 Music (2000)
19 Impressive Instant (2000)
18 The Power of Goodbye (1998)
17 Gambler (1985)
16 Don't Tell Me (2000)
15 Burning Up (1982)
14 Nothing Fails (2003)
13 Rescue Me (1990)

12 Cherish (1988)
11 You Must Love Me (1996)
10 You'll See (1995)
09 Everybody (1982)
08 Ray of Light (1998)
07 Rain (1992)
06 Vogue (1990)
05 Open Your Heart (1986)
04 Frozen (1998)
03 Into the Groove (1985)
02 Erotica (1992)
01 Like a Prayer (1988)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Press Hooks for Oscar

We all know that in the battle for attention that is "Awards Season" for films, it helps to have a media-friendly 'story', a press accessible angle to keep people talking about you. 1996 had "The Year of the Indie". 1998 had WWII and Queen Elizabeth as big multiple-film talking-points. 2004 had 'the Year of the Biopic.' So where is 2005 headed? Here are you options...

Socio-Political Crises
Munich, Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Jarhead, The Constant Gardener, Syriana and Goodnight and Good Luck

Biopic Fever Continues OR Because Ray, Kinsey, Finding Neverland, & The Aviator just weren't enough last year!
Capote and Walk the Line

It's a Gay Gay Gay Gay World
Brokeback Mountain, The Producers, Capote, Rent, Transamerica, The Libertine and Breakfast on Pluto *this angle has already been approached by the NY Times in what will undoubtedly become a camp classic of heterosexual panic journalism (see also ModFab's take on this strange piece.)

Miscellania OR Films that can't play along with the "stories" unless they become one themselves
Memoirs of a Geisha, King Kong, Cinderella Man, The New World, White Countess, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Match Point and Pride & Prejudice

Madonna Week: Best Film Performances

OK... stop laughing! Though Madonna has a reputation as a bad actress, among her 19 films there are a few vehicles that are worth sitting through. So, without further ado [Your laughter annoys me. Stop. Stop now.]... Madonna's 7 Best Film Performances

"the goods"
7 A League of Their Own (1992) as Mae
Debra Winger famously walked away from this enjoyable hunk of cheesy Americana when they cast Madonna saying she 'didn't approve of stunt-casting'. T'was a silly move. The film's only real acting demands were placed on the lead role (Geena Davis met them beautifully) Like many a comedy, the supporting cast are really only expected to sell one character trait each. Madonna gets big laughs as "All the Way" Mae. Can you guess the character trait?

6 Dangerous Game (1993) as Sarah Jennings
The divisive provocateur-director Abel Ferrara was coming off a career peak (The Bad Lieteunant with Harvey Keitel) when Madonna signed on. The movie doesn't work but Madonna gives a surprisingly unforced turn.

5 Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) as Susan
Many people still consider this to be both her debut film and her best work. It's not either actually... but I think the response was due to the widely held belief that she was basically playing herself in Susan Seidelman's charming punk comedy.

4 Dick Tracy (1990) as Breathless Mahoney
The film which led to that Oscar moment we've already discussed. Warren Beatty's colorful comic adaptation is an eye-popping good time. But I still want to strangle him for barely allowing us to see a killer Madonna performance (the song is "More") with ridiculously trigger happy cross-cutting. Argh.

and finally...the "must-see"s
3 The Hire: Star (2001) as the Star
The famed Hire series of shorts starring Clive Owen as the mysterious Driver is full of gems by major directors. This one, directed by the superstar's husband Guy Ritchie, is hilarious. Madonna is in great comic form as a diva from hell.

2 Evita (1996) as Eva Perón
Madonna fulfills a lifelong dream and earns the best reviews of her film career as well as a Golden Globe for her efforts. No Oscar nomination but she did get to perform "You Must Love Me" at the ceremony.

1 Truth or Dare (1991) as Madonna
What?! You think she wasn't 'performing' this role in the hit documentary? Think again. She's performing this the same way Norma Jean famously 'turned on' Marilyn when the time came. This is the one bonafide classic in her filmography.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Trouble With Harry

So, is it just me or is Harry Potter among the lamest but most celebrated protagonists of all time? He's like the Forrest Gump of fantasy. Just mulling through pleasantly, experiencing magical or dangerous events and always coming out smelling like a rose, regardless of what he does or does not do. The maddening thing is that he never takes initiative (pushed into it often by villains or teachers or powerful magics), doesn't ever show any intelligence (that job is outsourced to Hermione), and rarely wins (though he always does triumph) without overdetermined plot machinations or deux ex machinas doing the work for him.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I mean it's nice to see them keeping it up in terms of production values now that Alfonso Cuaron saved the series from complete irrelevance with his very well wrought Prisoner of Azkaban edition. Mike Newell, the series third director isn't as inspired but he doesn't drop the ball either. But still... Harry, damnit. Wake up! Do something. Make me interested in you as a hero. Because as it stands now I only get through these movies because I like the fantasy genre and it's fun to watch all these acclaimed thespians hamming it up in bit roles.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Madonna Week: Floor Show Part 3

continued from previous post
My 13 Favorite Live Madonna Performances Part 3 ~ Conclusion

04 "Sooner or Later" (The Academy Awards)
Of the 13 performances that I've shared in the list this one is the single shakiest. Madonna is visibly nervous at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion while performing for the crowd she once so badly wanted to be a part of (movie stars!). It's a mark of her eternally super-sized chutzpah that she pulls off the vamping under that pressure and gives one of the best musical performances ever seen at this nearly 80-year-old ceremony.

03 "Vogue" x 3 (Blond Ambition, MTV Video Awards, Girlie Show)
I figure if anything needed a multiple attack it was Vogue. Madonna's blockbuster single from 1990 gets elaborately diversified treatment in each of her tours and yet...doesn't it feel like it remains set in stone as well? So, in its own glamorous showoff way it's both a snapshot of Madonna herself (constantly mutating while always the same) and a perfect distillation of what it was always about... see also the brilliant 1991 documentary Paris is Burning for more fascinating dissection of the dance phenom.

02 "Holiday" (Blond Ambition)
One of only two songs (I believe -correct me if I'm wrong ~ the other 'Like a Virgin') that Madonna has performed in every tour. The crowd affection for it is contagious. Especially when Madonna seems like she's bursting with joy performing it. This rendition gets my vote for the best party moment in any of her tours. As an added bonus this will always be connected to that diva-inspirational moment in 1991's Truth or Dare when Madonna, Donna, and Niki all strut backstage together hand in hand in their Gaultier, singing the chorus a cappella to rev up for the show. Heaven.

01 "Like a Virgin" (MTV Video Awards)
Were I to write an autobiography this would be a moment of personal mythology. From the moment she rose up from the wedding cake, in her tarty veil, gown, and "boytoy" belt...well, this young boy was never the same again.

Dreamworks Makes First Big Oscar Move ... For 2006

MCN tells us that Dreamworks has announced that it will pay the licensing fees for any amateur production of Dreamgirls in the calendar year of 2006. So, theoretically at least, they just built a possible huge groundswell for this movie all over the country. High school kids, community colleges, etc... This movie is sounding more and more like the next musical blockbuster on the level of Chicago. [Yeah--no, I don't expect Rent or The Producers to get there]

The Bill Condon (Kinsey, Gods and Monsters) helmed musical already has a website and a release date: December 2006.

Previous Dreamgirls Post
And I am Telling You... (Jennifer Hudson)
Previous Rumors (Fantasia Barrino)

Friday, November 18, 2005

La Streep

Better late than never. I promised a chart page for your favorite actress from several rounds of polling and a tribute page to the winner. Here she is!

And while we're on the topic, here is an interesting look at her process in relation to building her performance in the movie Prime, now playing at a theater near you. Plus previous Film Experience notes on Meryl Streep: The Prime of Miss Meryl Streep, Actresses of the Aughts Entry ~#23, Bronze Medalist: Film Bitch Awards, 2002

Toon Town

Tis the season. Following on the heels of the Documentary finalists announced, here ar the 10 finalists for the three slots in the Animated Feature race.

The finalists in alpha order: Chicken Little, Gulliver's Travel, Hoodwinked, Howl's Moving Castle, Madagascar, Robots, Steamboy, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, Valiant, and Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

The animated category is more difficult to predict each year than it has any right to be, given the lack of competition. It's always tough to say whether they'll go for the art or the commerce here. They could, theatrically, have less than three nominees given their rules. But I doubt they will. I am dreading seeing a Chicken Little nomination. But I bet they go there. Damnit.

Madonna Week: Floor Show Part 2

continued from previous post

08 "Fever" (The Girlie Show)
In 1992 and 1993, around the time of Erotica, Body of Evidence, and The Girlie Show and after the mega triumphs of Blond Ambition and two blockbuster films (Dick Tracy and A Leauge of Their Own) there was a huge backlash against Madonna. Even those that weren't offended felt that she was taking herself too seriously. So her follow up number to the expectedly sexed-up Erotica opener, was a wide-smiled surprise; a thumping shimmying happily sweaty rendition of Fever with two of her hottest dancers ever. Pure sexy fun.

07 "Burning Up" (The Virgin Tour)
I include this number mainly because it's become hard to find and thus more powerful in its obscurity. I was suddenly reminded of it, quite vividly I might add, in the new video to "Hung Up" when Madonna mounts a boombox and gyrates away. For me it was a direct reference to her raunchiest (well...for 1985) number in her first tour. This number was mysteriously excised from the video release.

06 "Nobody Knows Me" (The ReInvention Tour)
Rare is the concert performance of Madonna's that's free of dancing spectacles or group dynamics. So, this strutting solo, a shiny and self-congratulatory ode to Herself is a welcome oddity. Not that there haven't been similar moments in her career. They're easier to find in the CDs themselves, but speaking of live performances as we are, the closest thing you'll find is a couple of moments from the "Who's That Girl?" Tour, most famously in her lengthy faux-collapse in "Live to Tell" -by the time she triumphantly picked herself back up again the crowd was in hysterics. Madonna's brother once famously remarked that "my sister is her own masterpiece." He was right of course. I love to see her acknowledge it.

05 "Like a Virgin" (Blond Ambition)
Reason number #1 why Madonna is the Queen of Pop. Unlike roughly 3/4th of her competitors, "sexy" is never the end goal. It's just the hot window dressing.

To Be Concluded...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Keep Your Enemies Close

IMDB brings us the news regarding Beelzebub's Hilary Swank's next movie project, Freedom Writers. The first half of this news was already known to me --they say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, so I watch Persephone Mrs. Chad Lowe's every move. But the second part, the casting of Imelda Staunton in a supporting role, is new. This is rather like asking Toni Collette to 'support' Nia Vardalos in Connie & Carla last year. I just aint having this world where the former is a lesser star than the latter. Stop the world I want to get off.

Freedom Writers will be directed by Richard LaGravanese, who first rose to fame for his terrific Oscar-nominated screenplay The Fisher King (1991). He has only directed one fiction feature previously. That was the criminally undervalued Living out Loud (1998) which features an amazing awards-ignored central performance from Holly Hunter and the first real inkling that Queen Latifah was the kind of actress that would eventually end up Oscar-nominated. You know the kind: warm, easy to root for, engaging.

But back to Imelda & Hilary... Recount! The 2004 Best Actress race will never cease to haunt. What a world. What a world.

Madonna Week: Floor Show Part 1

Perhaps what you'd really like is a review of the new Madonna CD Confessions on a Dance Floor? My only response to this request is A+ Love it --BUT it's too soon to judge. I am always ecstatic the first week of getting new Madonna goodies, whatever they may be. Even the bad movies. I have to let the CD seep into my bones first. I have been taking embarrassing dance breaks during blogpostings (thank god there's no audio/visual here). If it means anything to you my fav tune at first listens is "Sorry". But while you wait [or perhaps no one is waiting and I am merely suffering from my typical delusion that the entire planet worships her] It's time for countdowns. More to follow unless you all scream "uncle"

My 13 Favorite Live Madonna Performances
Part 1 ~ 13 to 9

13 "Into the Groove" (Who's That Girl)
Madonna always ends her show with big group party numbers. The song is bliss --but you knew that already.

12 "Sky Fits Heaven" (Drowned World)
Combining her obsession o' the moment (geisha) with a literalization of the way I already viewed her (superhero!) she flies about and vanquishes her enemies. (What enemies, you ask? Well, onstage it's some of the dancers. But in my mind she's always smashing barriers, destroying pop conventions, and evicting boredom.) This spectacle is juvenile perhaps but it's a 100% ass-kicking good time.

11 "Deeper & Deeper/Why's It So Hard?" (The Girlie Show)
Madonna parties hard with backup girls Donna and Niki (as she does, happily, in nearly every tour) and then an orgy develops --sex always reared its multi-heads during this time period in Mo's career (92-93). That she makes the silliness work (70s costumes -disco balls, etc...) towards expressing something meaningful, in this case an AIDS statement, is one of the reasons I worship her.

10 "Dress You Up" (The Virgin Tour)
Words cannot describe how I felt in 1985 for the very first seconds of seeing her live in Detroit. This was the opening number. I was an awestruck screaming mess.

09 "Music" (Drowned World)
Another big party number. Madonna shows aren't exactly "spontaneous" --every second feels planned. But they work anyway as live shows because she is clearly having fun. The background projection, Madonna, at all stages of her career was a perfect way to illustrate the celebratory motif of this song.

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

And I Am Telling You

God Bless ModFab. How else would I continue to stay up-to-the-second on Dreamgirls casting news?

Though I am hardly a diehard American Idol enthusiast (I'm more of a graduate of the love-to-hate-it school) or an obsessive Dreamgirls fan, I have inexplicably high hopes for the movie and I've never loved a contestant on any AI season more than I loved Jennifer Hudson. So today ModFab tells us that she beat out Fantasia Barrino (her Idol vanquisher) for the killer role of Effie in the Bill Condon led movie adaptation of the beloved stage musical. I can't believe that Jennifer Hudson could be an Oscar nominee. But that role is so can't-miss... If she's any good and she brings down the house with "And I Am Telling You (I'm Not Going)"--and why wouldn't she?--the sky is the limit.

You Said It Robert

I saw three movies today and about 3/4th of the way into the last one, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, (which happened to be the best of the batch) Robert Downey Jr. says to no one in particular "This is exhausting!" Since much of Kiss is meta the 4th wall is broken early and often. I was already acclimated to Robert addressing me directly. "Exhausting"? You said it, Robert! Robert Downey Jrs charisma and acting are so involving that he can sell practically anything. At least to me. I'm not even looking at price tags. I'm just buying.

So when he echoed my feelings I felt like he'd just sat through all three movies with me. He too was apparently annoyed by the awkward whimsy and episodic repetitiveness of Breakfast on Pluto. He groaned alongside me watching Chicken Little, a sloppy derivative and instantly dated movie. We wondered if the damage done to the animated genre by Robin Williams's genie in Alladin and both Shrek films can ever be undone? Does every CG animated movie (Pixar excepted of course) have to be so steeped in pop culture that its impossible to imagine the film provoking anything other than confused smiles in 10 years time --let alone existing? It's all 'wink wink nudge nudge.' And, if that weren't tiresome enough it also borrows from Shrek's obsession with wall to wall popsong scoring. Only it does so with an even duller sense of humor.

Speaking of 'wink wink nudge nudge'... that could be an alternate title for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. But at least this latest offering from famous 90s screenwriter Shane Black has moments of genuine wit and invention rather than lazy pop-culture asides. The easy rapport and chemistry of its threesome (Robert Downey Jr, Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan) also go along way towards making this detective comedy feel like a fun ride rather than a straight-to-video throwaway or a chore to sit through.

Breakfast on Pluto
Chicken Little D
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang B-

Hump Day Hotties: Cillian Murphy

To celebrate the opening of Breakfast on Pluto today (in limited release --sorry kids) this week's edible icon is ascending Irish actor Cillian Murphy. As feminine-pretty as this 31-year-old vegetarian may be in the new Neil Jordan drag drama, we possibly wouldn't know and love Cillian today without his feral naked breakthrough in 28 Days Later[FB Breakthrough Silver Medal]. Or rather we would still know him (his talent assures it) but maybe we wouldn't have quite so much affection or investment in his young career.

Murphy is so magnetic that his look works whether he's emaciated and rain-drenched (28 Days Later), professional and sinister (Red Eye, Batman Begins), or dolled up in drag (Breakfast). The lips, full and luscious combined with the too-high cheeks and the not-so secret weapon: those piercing baby blues --though one hesitates to describe his eyes as baby-anything, with their worldly iciness.

He has already made more than a dozen pictures in his short career. After Pluto he will next be onscreen in his second pairing with his 28 Days director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) alongside a strong and beautiful cast that includes Michelle Yeoh, Troy Garity, Michelle Yeoh, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Chris Evans.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What's Up "Docs"? No Grizzly? No Way!

* This post has been edited to reflect the full list*

15 finalists named for the Oscar Feature Documentary race (which will be narrowed down to 5 nominees on January 31st).

March of the Penguins (my short review), Murderball, Mad Hot Ballroom, Rize and Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room

39 Pounds of Love, After Innocence, The Boys Of Baraka, Darwin's Nightmare, Unknown White Male, Street Fight, On Native Soil: The Documentary of the 9/11 Comission Report, Occupation: Dreamland, The Devil & Daniel Johnston, and Favela Rising
If you've seen any of these please share comments here. Do they have a shot at that 5 deep shortlist?

The excellent Grizzly Man (my capsule review) Werner Herzog's absence from this list is maddening. The Documentary branch can never get it together it seems.

Retro: 1983

1983 or
"The One Where Astronauts Ensemble, Daughters Get Cancer, Pacino says hello to his 'little friend,' and Princess Leia Dons on the Gold Bikini"

I hesitated before posting retro-awardage for this year. You'll notice immediately that two acclaimed films by two of my all-time favorite auteurs (Fanny & Alexander and Zelig) are absent as I haven't seen them. But if I wait to see everything I haven't seen I will never get any pages uploaded.

So, for what it's worth... My preliminary attack on the films of 1983. Keep in mind that these are not final awards, but rough drafts.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Movie Seeks Audience

It's the return of the "Movie Personals". Capsule Reviews as Personal ads. Which movie are you most compatible with. Masochists will worship The Dying Gaul's haphazardly applied hostility. Romantics may swoon for Pride & Prejudice. Etc...

Read the reviews: Capote, The Dying Gaul, Grizzly Man, In Her Shoes, Oldboy, Pride & Prejudice, and Proof

The Globes Got The Power

The HFPA (better known as the Golden Globe people) have the power this year to

...make our break desired revivals for Cinderella Man, Joan Allen's Upside bid, and the debut of the Weinstein Co.
...ignite or douse the sudden contention of Pride & Prejudice.
...cement Crash as a big 8 contender.
...confirm December's stranglehold on the Oscar imagination or open the races up with whole-year acknowledgements for Capote, A History of Violence, and The Constant Gardener, among others. just how deep their Renée Zellweger fanaticism runs. If she can manage another undeserved nod this year she ties Streep and Pfeiffer for most consecutive Globe noms (6). How scarily devoted are they? We'll find out in one month.

Things the Globes don't have the power to tell us this year:

...anything about Oscar's possible affection for Match Point, Oscar's reaction to Woody is a hard to predict and obviously unique relationship/thang.
...what to think of the Best Original Score race. Oscar's club in that regard is notoriously hermetic and ungiving, no matter the quality of various scores in any given year that seek entrance.
...whether or not Geisha and Munich are the two frontrunners to win as people are speculating.. They're the type of prestige dramas that can get major Globe attention even if they're disappointing otherwise (on name and timing alone), and because the field is wider at the Globes.

The truth is this: If the field of contenders is largely even the precursors have even greater power than usual to influence Oscar. And I agree with Poland's contention that the Best Picture shortlist race is fairly wide open and will possibly remain so. Although I must say I disagree enthusiastically on some of the individual takes --like claiming Munich deconstructs an entire genre, a claim he made without having seen the film. Ah well, faith is rarely rational. Which would explain why I'm so sure that Brokeback Mountain will place without having yet seen it and in spite of the Academy's lily-livered persona when it comes to controversial stuff.

"Not I"

As many of you know my love for Julianne Moore runs deep. But lately, after too many Laws of Attractions and Prize Winners in a row the affection has felt shallow. I needed a pick-me-up. So, when visiting Nick this past weekend for our bi-monthly futon festival we decided to take a gander at one of the only three entries in Julianne Moore's 40 deep filmography that somehow escaped my hungry gaze.

Not I, directed by Neil Jordan, is a short film on an amazingly intense Samuel Beckett monologue. A disembodied mouth speaks rapidly about itself, unwilling to reveal/accept its identity. This third person confessional interrogation filled with interrupted asides --"what? who?"-- is delivered by Julianne Moore with speed, precision, and barely a breath taken for all of its 14 minutes. While the editing certainly plays a part in the films rapid-fire hypnotic appeal, Moore's grasp of the material is entirely compelling on its own --perhaps no surprise given that existential panic remains her specialty. Her varied and vocally fascinating delivery prevents the intelligent abstractions of Beckett's monologue from being lost or misunderstood during the extremely odd experience of watching only a mouth for minutes on end.

Sometimes you see a film at exactly the right moment. My love for Julie Ann is more than rekindled, it is dangerously close to combustion again.

(You can read more about this short film here.)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

International Male Deux

So, round 6 of the Actor Polls has begun (2nd part of the foreign stars) ... So you can choose between your seven samurai, your Mastroiannis, your Von Sydows, your enduring Bollywood actors, and your French gods. If I missed anyone (and I'm sure I did -- this is harder than it looks) please forgive. And vote.

p.s. as per usual people whose stardom began post 1995 are not included in these lists (too new to judge)

Fav iPod Lyric of the Moment

who would ever think that i'd be given up the goodies?
walk around naked in a pair of pink footies
just like them hos at the shows
half dressed clothes --doing whatever, who knows

-Missy Elliot 4 My Man

Friday, November 11, 2005

Low Expectations

When you see movies frequently and sometimes with no real interest outside of motives which would be unfamiliar to the layman (i.e. reasons such as 'it might get an Oscar nomination' or 'I'm supposed to have an opinion on this' ) you can on occassion be very surprised. The new and umpteenth version of Pride & Prejudice was just such a shock to my system. From almost the first frame I was just totally with it, not even resisting it even though I had no real desire to see it or investment in it being good. Yet there it was, just brightly going about its well filmed, well acted, and altogether well judged storytelling business. Go see it.

Coming Home (1978)

A quick US at war summary
Decades long international political maneuvering prior to outright war which involves a particularly complicated region of the world that the average American doesn't understand and possibly couldn't point out on a map. Major air-bombing style warfare followed by 'peace talks' and withdrawals. Re-escalating problems years later. Another huge offensive mounted, costing the US billions, to little dissent within Congress. Major military casualties follow. A politically divided nation in which the heartland is pitted against the peace protestors. No end in sight.

Since you can't tell whether I'm talking about Vietnam circa 1968 or Iraq in 2005 and that strange Apocalypse Now / Jarhead duet is still playing in my head, we stay in the jungle / desert for another week.

Vietnam War themed pictures began to rise up almost immediately as that lengthy destructive war ended. The apex was in the late 70s when reflections on the cost of the war dominated the American psyche and consequently Hollywood mentality as well. The Deer Hunter won the Best Picture Oscar in March of 1979 and any major trophy it did not win went to its tiny counterpart, Coming Home.

So, we're not really staying in the jungles of Nam. We're returning to American soil just like the wounded soldiers in director Hal Ashby's quiet contemplative Vietnam film. It's a war picture with no combat scenes, no action, and no enemies. Instead it's the war at home or the aftermath of it; and a tiny slice of it at that. What's fascinating about this 1978 Oscar-winner is that it belongs to a school of films that seem to have all but vanished: the political as personal. Nowadays when political or war stories are told onscreen they have epic multi-narrative scope (Traffic, Syriana) or take place in the actual battleground (Three Kings, Saving Private Ryan, Jarhead). Rarely, if ever, are they content to look at the small picture, the simple human stories within the context of these global concerns.

Jon Voight, a major star of the 70s and better known as Angelina Jolie's dad these days, won the Oscar for his charismatic portrayal of an angry wheel-chair bound soldier haunted by battleground memories. His co-star Jane Fonda ( she once had quite the knack for finding herself in zeitgeist films) won her second Oscar. She plays a military wife whose husband has enthusiastically been shipped off to the jungle. While this star turn lacks the revelatory snap of her breakthrough dramatic work in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?(1969) or the complexity of her first Oscar winning role in Klute(1971), it's still a wonderful snapshot of a woman at a crossroads. The most incisive part of her portrayal is the way she handles the common but rarely dramatized way in which people are prone to approach difficult consequential personal changes. It's as if she is sleepwalking into them, as if surprised at faux-spontaneous decisions which she has, in fact, already made. Coming Home looks only at handful of people within the context of a polarizing war but its gaze is so tender and unforced that the politics, even when overt, seem to fall away. It's easy to be captivated by its compassionate humanity.