Monday, November 30, 2009

November. It's a Wrap

In case you missed anything in November here are some highlights from the 11th month of a year that is just whizzing by, as if time can't wait to bring us a new decade already.

Darren Aronofsky Robert's "Director of the Decade" series took on the man behind all those desperate addicts (to love, fame, drugs)
Oh, Suzanne-ah Meryl, Shirley and Dennis in Postcards From the Edge
Dolph 'the biggest one' Lundgren the kick off to the "birthday suit" series was a fun reminder of Showdown in Little Tokyo bad it's good.
2001 Top Ten the year of Nicole Kidman and Mulholland Dr remembered
"Honey You'll Hurt Yourself" Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

7 Word Reviews brief expressions of disappointment in Oscar fare
Beauty Queen Jose's beautiful ode to Julia as Erin Brockovich as we look back over each year of the Aughts
Landscape No. 2 Slovenia's Oscar entry
Curio Alexandra's series is making me wish my pockets were deeper. I must have those director coasters and those movie-fied barbies in particular
Nine You're forgiven if you think the Weinsteins have been paying me this year. So many posts. So much free advertising. I'm a desperate addict (to musicals, fame, actresses)

Coming in December: I'm not promising anything. We'll just try and keep up with all the precursor madness, top ten listings and continue the decade in review business... which will definitely stretch into 2010. Deal with it. Patience is good for you.

Halfway House: Kristen Stewart Has a Sh** Life, Okay?

Halfway through the day, pause a movie halfway through. What do you see?

Every life choice has its ups and downs. So goes the life of the actressexual. If you champion and obsess over actresses as I have since I was a little boy then every, oh, three to five years you will experience the superstar rise of an actress that you find unsupportable and that you wish the rest of the world would get over. Behold my 2007-2010 model: Kristen Stewart.

53 minutes into Adventureland, Kristen craps on Jesse
Jesse Eisenberg: I think you're incredible.
[pause. inhale]
Kristen Stewart: There's a lot of shit in my life.

I'm not ready for this...
There are many reasons to hate Kristen Stewart so she didn't really need to add taking a dump on adorabnoxious Jesse Eisenberg's dreams to the list. Since the Twilight movies have taken over the world, we will surely be seeing Kristen Stewart in dozens of movies over the next 5 or 6 years. She'll be in demand for every role for a twentysomething.

I'm not ready for this.

How will I tell one character from the next what will all the shoulder shrugging, painful intakes of breath, hair stroking, and general twitchiness that define every Stewart performance? Someone help me see things differently because I know I'll be seeing a lot of her. What am I missing? Please tell me that she'll at least play Joan Jett differently than this because I really want to enjoy The Runaways next year. I love Joan Jett. And I don't really remember her as the mopey, shrugging, self-loathing sort that Stewart specializes in.

So, no wonder that Eisenberg runs to the arms of "Lisa P" (Margarita Levieva) in Adventureland. Anything to break the monotony of Kristen's mannered & mopey miserabilism. As for the movie itself, I'm glad that some people found it so moving and worthwhile but I felt largely indifferent to it, though I did admire its partial commitment to languid summer moods and the tiny sparks of humor. And I liked Lisa P and her bestie dance partner Kelly. Loved the T-shirts, too. And the Giant Ass Panda. I'd pro'lly cheat to win one of those, too.

First and Last: "Merry Christmas, Captain"

That holiday well wishing in the title line is actually the first line of dialogue but here's the first non blurry image after the credits...

and the last line
Fresh asparagus, then pasta. Angel hair pasta with heaps of basil, garlic, olive oil and pie... yeah.

John, do you have a towel?
Can you guess the movie?

Highlight for the answer: DEAD CALM (1989)
for all first and last puzzles, click the label below

Birthday Suits, Well Directed

Lights. Cameras. Birthday Action (for this, the 30th of November). Only one month left to go and it's 2010. How crazy is that?

Ridley, Terrence (in the 70s) and Marc

1835 Mark Twain's books have been adapted into movies ever since the movies began. Most notably The Prince and the Pauper and any tale of Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer
1920 Virginia Mayo 40s and 50s star, frequent Danny Kaye foil
1926 Richard Crenna, character actor
1927 Robert Guillaume, "Benson"
1929 Dick Clark, seemingly immortal creature who may finally be destroyed by the rise of his spiritual offspring Ryan Seacrest. It's all very Cronos vs. Zeus, only without the thunderbolts
1937 Ridley Scott, manly director whose movies are usually way better when they're shot through with a strong female presence. Consider the three classics: Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Alien. The rest of the filmography surely has its moments but that's the trinity right there.
1943 Terence Malick, mysterious director, nature lover. He's only directed 4 features but what a quartet: Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World. His fifth classic (I'm guessing) Tree of Life will arrive next year.
1950 Margaret Whitton potent 80s supporting actress (Secret of My Succe$s, Ironweed) who made her last movie Trial By Jury way back in 1994. I guess Hollywood didn't meet her needs. They certainly didn't capitalize well on her gifts.
1950 Chris Claremont wrote the X-Men, owned my childhood
1951 Bo Welch frequent Art Direction Oscar nominee. The filmography includes The Color Purple, Edward Scissorhands, Men in Black, Batman Returns, The Birdcage and The Little Princess
1952 Mandy Patinkin, singer, Inigo Montaya, broadway star, actor, continually wasted on TV series. I loved Yentl (1983) as a kid but I still can't quite forgive Babs for putting Mandy in a film musical (his only) and not letting him sing. That ain't right. I mean Warren Beatty even let him sing (with Madonna) in Dick Tracy and that wasn't even a musical

1952 Henry Selick director, stop motion miracle worker (Coraline, James and the Giant Peach, The Nightmare Before Christmas. See previous post)
1955 Billy Idol rocks, sneers, acts once in a blue moon (The Doors)
1956 Stephen Dillane actor of stage, screen, tv. Has played husband to two of TFE's favorite actresses: Kidman in The Hours and Moore in Savage Grace
1959 Cherie Currie, about to be portrayed by Dakota Fanning in The Runaways (see previous posts)
1969 Marc Forster hot bald director (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball)
1969 David Lindsey-Abaire playwright and screenwriter (Rabbit Hole)
1969 Amy Ryan, Oscar nominated actress (Gone Baby Gone)
1973 Nimród Antal the unusual named Hungarian American director (Kontroll) is currently directing Adrien Brody and Topher Grace in a reboot of the Predator franchise imaginatively titled Predators (2010)
1982 Clémence Poésy, French actress, known to millions as "Fleur Delacour"
1985 Aoi Miyazaki, Japanese actress

Finally today is the 31st birthday of diminutive screen god Gael García Bernal, one of the best and most important actors working. My wish for his next decade onscreen is that he reunite with either Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien) or Pedro Almodóvar (Bad Education) but preferrably both. Maybe even a reteam with Alejandro González Iñárritu so long as the director hands him an Amores Perros quality role rather than the thankless one he got in Babel.

The cinema doesn't always do right by its most talented partisans but thankfully GGB is in demand. Next up is a romantic drama with Amanda Seyfried called Letters to Juliet. After that he's starring in the period drama También La Lluvia for actress turned director Icíar Bollaín followed by (gulp) a romantic comedy with Kate Hudson called Earthbound. Finally, that Oscar nomination that he's deserved but that's proved elusive could arrive. He has another starring role in a biopic (he's done that before with Motorcycle Diaries) called Gardel and then there's (maybe) Martin Scorsese's Silence, a historical drama about Jesuit priests. The latter, where he'd supposedly partner with the other recent screen "Che", Benicio Del Toro, sounds promising. Wouldn't it be nice to see Scorsese try his hand at directing a young and very talented actor whose name isn't Leonardo DiCaprio for a change?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Complete The Sentence

Sandra Bullock is ______________________________

The Satellites Have Launched. What Are They Orbiting?

The Satellites (formerly Golden) have announced their 2009 nominations for what it's worth. And you might be screaming "not very much".

It's hard to know what to make of this Golden Globe splinter group. There is never much of a narrative thread in their nominations. You can't sense from year to year a type of film they like or whatnot. Which makes them feel a bit suspect. They also do very strange things which you're about to see if you read their nominations. They never get much attention and yet they keep plugging away. This year they were especially kind to 2012 (who knew?), Nine and The Stoning of Soraya M. But they were downright rude to the sci-fi drama Moon which received zero nominations despite their lack of aversion to sci-fi films. I mention this because the moon is a natural satellite and the Satellites are artificial. Maybe they're jealous. What they're orbiting we know not.

Their Top Ten List...
Bright Star | An Education | (500) Days of Summer (not nominated in their best picture categories)| The Hurt Locker | Inglourious Basterds (not nominated in their best picture categories) | Nine | Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire | A Serious Man | The Stoning of Soraya M. | Up in the Air

  • I like looking at top ten lists -- even artificial ones -- because I like seeing the curveballs. The Stoning of Soraya M is definitely it. Note to self: watch the screener. But a top ten list is not enough... there's also several best picture categories. Everyone is a winner!

Best Motion Picture (Drama)

Bright Star | An Education | The Hurt Locker | The Messenger | Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire | The Stoning of Soraya M.

Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical)
The Informant! | It’s Complicated | Julie & Julia | Nine | A Serious Man | Up in the Air

  • This particular lineup is actually feasible as a Golden Globe prospect as well. But the Globes are hard to predit. We'll see.

Best Motion Picture (Animated or Mixed Media)
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs | Fantastic Mr. Fox | Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince | The Princess and the Frog | Up | Where the Wild Things Are

Best Documentary Feature
The Beaches of Agnes | The Cove | Every Little Step | It Might Get Loud | The September Issue | Valentino: The Last Emperor

Best Foreign Language Film
Broken Embraces | I Killed My Mother (Canada's Oscar submission) | The Maid | Red Cliff | The White Ribbon (Germany's Oscar submission) | Winter in Wartime (The Netherlands Oscar submission)

Best Director
Jane Campion, Bright Star | Neill Blomkamp, District 9 | Lone Scherfig, An Education | Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker | Rob Marshall, Nine | Lee Daniels, Precious

  • The best director citation for first timer Neill Blomkamp (District 9) is straight up bizarre even if you think he's deserving. His film didn't make their top ten list or any of their best picture lists, not even Mixed Media! What's up with that?

Best Actress (Drama)
Shohreh Aghdashloo, The Stoning of Soraya M. | Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria | Abbie Cornish, Bright Star | Penelope Cruz, Broken Embraces | Carey Mulligan, An Education | Catalina Saavedra, The Maid

  • No Sidibe but they gave her a special prize. Aside from Mulligan they ignored the expected Oscar competitors

Best Actor (Drama)
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart | Hugh Dancy, Adam | Johnny Depp, Public Enemies | Colin Firth, A Single Man | Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker | Michael Sheen, The Damned United

  • I knew that somebody would mention Johnny Depp. He's too big of a star for all of the star hungry awards groups to ignore. Will the Globes be able to resist this mega wattage?

Best Actress (Comedy Or Musical)
Sandra Bullock, The Proposal | Marion Cotillard, Nine | Zooey Deschanel, (500) Days of Summer | Katherine Heigl, The Ugly Truth | Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

  • I can't really see this lineup repeating at the Globes. We're probably in for a Streep two-fer. And the Globes have always been fond of Michelle Pfeiffer so it'll be interesting to see if they go for Chéri. But they probably won't given the lack of campaigning.

Best Actor (Comedy Or Musical)
George Clooney, Up in the Air | Bradley Cooper, The Hangover | Matt Damon, The Informant! | Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine | Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man

  • As we know the studio requested Up in the Air to compete in "Drama" at the Globes. But the Globes aren't required to do as the studio says. Though they usually do. Also it's worth noting here that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was left out despite driving (500) Days so effortlessly to its most whimsical and its most painful moments. That's a shame. It's also tremendously weird that it's considered one of the ten best movies of the year but not one of the six best comedies, even though half of the competition there did not make the top ten list.

Best Supporting Actress
Emily Blunt, Sunshine Cleaning| Penelope Cruz, Nine | Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air | Mozhan Marno, The Stoning of Soraya M. | Mo’nique, Precious

  • er.... Emily Blunt as a double nominee? Weirdness. I guess they really want her to show up at the ceremony.

Best Supporting Actor
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger | James McAvoy, The Last Station | Alfred Molina, An Education | Timothy Spall, The Damned United | Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

  • I'm curious if anyone or anything from The Messenger is able to get any Oscar traction. In some ways Woody Harrelson might be an ideal candidate for AMPAS notice given the year he's having with a big hit Zombieland and given the nature of this here role. But the film is teeny-tiny and that's what the Indie Spirits were created to honor.

Best Original Screenplay
Jane Campion, Bright Star | Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer | Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker | Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man | Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, Up

  • This list seems very likely to repeat all the way to Oscar

Best Adapted Screenplay
Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, District 9 | Nick Hornby, An Education | Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia | Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious | Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

  • Yet more kudos for District 9 which has excellent everything... but is not excellent itself! Please note that Satellite distinction. I hadn't really thought about Julie & Julia as an Oscar threat in this category. But maybe the industry would like to honor sometime hit maker Nora Ephron?

Best Art Direction
Terry Gilliam, Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus | Nathan Crowley, Patrick Lumb and William Ladd Skinner, Public Enemies | Eddy Wong, Red Cliff | Chris Kennedy, The Road | Ian Philips and Dan Bishop, A Single Man | Barry Chusid and Elizabeth Wilcox, 2012

  • I am perplexed all over the place. 2012? It's nice to see foreign films like Red Cliff honored but on the other hand, it just opened. And all awards groups tend to have that "we just saw it!" problem. Which is one of the many reasons that studios make your life miserable with the waiting. Would that all awards voters would take their jobs seriously and keep lists of great stuff all year that they could consider once it's time to vote.

Best Cinematography
Robert Richardson, Inglourious Basterds | Guillermo Navarro and Erich Roland, It Might Get Loud | Dion Beebe, Nine | Dante Spinotti, Public Enemies | Lu Yue and Zhang Yi, Red Cliff | Roger Deakins, A Serious Man

  • Inglourious... I'd be very happy to see Richardson honored at the Oscars but I have so many doubts. They passed over his beyond excellent work on Kill Bill. It could happen again. I think Beebe is winning the eventual Oscar.

Best Costume Design
Consolata Boyle, Cheri
Monique Prudhomme, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Colleen Atwood, Nine
Tim Yip, Red Cliff
Sandy Powell, The Young Victoria

  • Chéri... yay!

Best Film Editing
Julian Clarke, District 9
Chris Innis and Bob Murawski, The Hurt Locker
Greg Finton, It Might Get Loud
Claire Simpson and Wyatt Smith, Nine
Angie Lam, Yang Hongyu and Robert A. Ferretti, Red Cliff
David Brenner and Peter S. Elliot, 2012

  • They really liked this It Might Get Loud doc. Unfortunately they also really liked 2012 all over the place. Like Red Cliff that just opened which might explain the fervor.

Best Original Score
Gabriel Yared, Amelia
Marvin Hamlisch, The Informant!
Elliot Goldenthal, Public Enemies
Michael Giacchino, Up
Rolfe Kent, Up in the Air
Carter Burwell and Karen O, Where the Wild Things Are

  • Yared's Amelia score annoyed the crap out of me. I hope this isn't a sign of things to come but then it is a very LOUD and IMPORTANT SOUNDING and EMOTIONAL CUE type score so maybe the Oscar's music branch will go for it. They Like It Loud.

Best Original Song
“The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart (T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham)
“We are the Children of the World” from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Terry Gilliam)
“Cinema Italiano” from Nine (Maury Yeston)
“I See in Color” from Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (Mary J. Blige)
“Almost There” from The Princess and the Frog (Randy Newman)
“Down in New Orleans” from The Princess and the Frog (Randy Newman)

  • I suppose I should just say it. I H-A-T-E "Cinema Italiano"... it's a blight on the otherwise fine Yeston Nine score. The other new number "Take It All" is much stronger as songs go.

Best Sound (Mixing and Editing)
It Might Get Loud | Nine | Red Cliff | Terminator Salvation | Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen | 2012

Best Visual Effects
District 9 | Fantastic Mr. Fox | The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus | Red Cliff | Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen | 2012

  • Basically they just decided on about 7-8 films to nominate for everything. In this way they're exactly like the Oscars... only in this way though.

And that's that!

Michael York in 2009 --->

But wait there's more. For no explicable reaon they mix up their nominations with awards without competitors. They're giving Best Ensemble to Nine, Outstanding New Talent to "Precious" herself Gabourey Sidibe (who I suspect will be splitting the "breakthrough" prizes at the other precursors with Carey Mulligan) and special achievement awards to Roger Corman, Roger Deakins (also a nominee, strange) and 70s star Michael York (Cabaret, Logan's Run) and his cheekbones. Those babies do deserve an "Artistic Contribution" prize.


Day of Rest

Shhhhhhhhhh. Penélope requires beauty sleep. Her beauty has escalated to such extremes that she now requires 22.3 hours of sleep a day. We're joining her. See you in the bloggin' morning.

Birthday Suits: The Blonde and the Bookish

Celebrating cinematic birthdays for 11/29. Which celebrity would you most like to spank today?

Blon: Diane, Anna and Cathy

1832 Louisa May Alcott wrote the oft-adapted Little Women
1895 Busby Berkeley, legendary choreographer/director. What would the early musicals have been without him?
1898 C.S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia which were made into unfortunately generic movies. He also wrote The Screwtape Letters which I personally pray will never see the silver screen despite Hollywood's efforts. Some books just deserve the undiluted perfection of their original form. Sir Anthony Hopkins played him in the weepy bio Shadowlands (1993)
1901 Mildred Harris, silent film actress and Mrs Charlie Chaplin (for a few years)
1918 Madeleine L'Engle prolific author, most famous for Wrinkle in Time
1931 Shintarô Katsu the original blind swordsman Zatoichi
1932 Diane Ladd, if you don't love her Oscar nom'ed performances in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Rambling Rose and Wild at Heart, well... what's wrong with you? Please also thank her for birthing Laura Dern
1954 Joel Coen one half of the dynamic duo, the half that's married to Frances McDormand
1960 Cathy Moriarty, Mrs Raging Bull and hilarious Soapdish vixen

1962 Andrew McCarthy, 80s star who specialized in treating Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy and dead employers like shit
1964 Don Cheadle, porn star, hotelier, War Machine
1964 Tom Sizemore tough guy actor, 90s regular
1976 Anna Faris, actress, House Bunny, Cameron Diaz mocker

And finally Lucas Black (pictured left) turns 27 today. He was somewhat famous by the age of fourteen (Sling Blade) and continued to prove his skill and solid screen presence as he grew up (All The Pretty Horses, Cold Mountain, Jarhead). He's at a highly castable age now. Come on Hollywood, where are the leading man tryout roles? I'm not sure if The Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift counts ...but then, I haven't seen it. Perhaps he botched his chance? Or maybe the film done him in?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Golden Horse Awards: Maggie Cheung, Ang Lee, Leon Dai, Tsai Ming-liang

Maggie Cheung alert!
She walked the Taiwanese red carpet today in this white number to your left. She was presenting Best Picture at the Golden Horse Awards. The Golden Horse is Taiwanese in origin but it's for Chinese language films regardless of country of origin so it's very competitive now. Warlords and Lust, Caution, which both had international releases, were recent winners of Best Picture.

This year, Maggie handed the trophy to No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti which, if we ever see it in the States, might be called I Can't Live Without You or Not Without You. That's Taiwan's submission for this year's Foreign Language Film Oscar race. The film is from actor/director Leon Dai and it's about a poor man who loses his daughter once the government learns of their illegal living conditions.

No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (2009) from Taiwan

Best Picture: No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti
Best Director: Leon Dai, No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti
This prize was presented by four previous winners: Ang Lee, Ho Hsiao Hsien, Johnny To and Stanley Kwan. Imagine receiving your prize from that illustrious quartet.
Best Actress: Bingbing Li, The Message
You may have seen her last year in The Forbidden Kingdom. The Message is an espionage thriller

Best Actor: Was a tie for the first time in Golden Horse history.
Nick Cheung
in Ching Yan (aka The Beast Stalker) a police drama
Bo Huang in Dou Niu (aka Cow) as a Chinese peasant protecting his livestock in the 1940s
Supporting Actor: Xueqi Wang, Mei Lanfang which is China's Oscar submission this year, a biopic about a famous opera star which also stars Zhang Ziyi
Supporting Actress: Kara Hui, Sham Moh
Original Screenplay: No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti
Adapted Screenplay: Dou Niu
Cinematography: City of Life and Death

Tsai Ming-Liang's gives good eye candy in Visage (Face)

Art Direction: Face
Makeup and Costume Design: Face
Choreography: Ip Man ... choreography is one of those prizes, like stunts, that one has to wonder why the Oscars never thought to reward.
Visual Effects: Fengkuang de Saiche (aka Crazy Racer)
Film Editing: KJ: Music and Life
Sound Effects: KJ: Music and Life
Original Score: The Equation of Love and Death
Original Song: "For My Heart"
Documentary: KJ: Music and Life
Lifetime Achievement: Ming Ji (I'm not sure who this is or why they were rewarded since there are several Ming Jis or Ji Mings listed at IMDB)
Special Contribution: George Wang

Maggie presented Best Picture alone at the ceremony but said publicly that she most wanted to present it with Tony Leung Chiu Wai (her frequent co-star) and Carina (his wife). As Tony -- TFE reader, not the movie star ;) -- reminded me in conversation, this will undoubtedly cause a media stir since Tony & Maggie's
relationship is always primo gossip fodder.

Here's a bit of the fashions on the red carpet. In order of appearance: Terri Kwan (star of Prince of Tears, another Oscar submission this year), Ting Ting Hu
(Ghosted), Lynn Hung, the beauty in yellow plays Ip Man's wife and she's the real life girlfriend of Aaron Kwo, Maggie and Ang, Lunmei Kwai (in black), Shu Qi (who you'll recognize) walks with Ho Hsiao Hsien, Best Actress winner Li Bingbing is with Alec Su (in the leather pants), Yung-yung Chan star of Yang Yang, Vivian Hsu is wearing a necklace that I can't stop staring at.

Speak up if you've seen any of these films. A few of you surely have. And can we get a petition going to pull Maggie Cheung out of retirement, please?

Birthday Suits, An Oscar For Ed!

Each day we're celebriting the birth of various cinematic persons. Can someone in Hollywood please give their Oscar to Ed Harris today? I mean, my god how long does he have to wait for that damn thing? The rest of today's Sagittarians are less easy to shop for. What could we give Jon Stewart, for example, that he doesn't already have?

Ed, Laura and Jon

1896 Lilia Skala, Oscar nominated actress (Lilies of the Field)
1923 Gloria Grahame, Oscar winner (The Bad the Beautiful)
933 Hope Lange, Oscar nominated actress (Peyton Place, The Young Lions, Death Wish)
1941 Laura Antonelli, Italian actress, sex symbol
1946 Joe Dante He'll always have Gremlins, such a great 80s picture.
1949 Alexander Godunov, like Baryshnikov, he was a Russian ballet star who defected to America and co-starred in movies. It didn't go quite as well. He never achieved anything close to Misha's level of fame though he made for a memorable screen presence (Witness, Die Hard), and dated other celebrities (memorably 70s sex symbol Jacqueline Bissett). He died at 45. Alcoholism done him in.
1950 Ed Harris golden winner-in-waiting, fab actor... If I had to pick a favorite performance I'd say The Truman Show. But then there's always The Right Stuff, A History of Violence... Pollock!

1959 Judd Nelson "what we found out is that each of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basketcase, a princess ...and a criminal. Does that answer your question?"
1960 Barry Alexander Brown, edits nearly every Spike Lee joint. He still hasn't been Oscar nominated.
1961 Alfonso Cuarón one of my fav' current directors (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien)
1962 Jon Stewart former actor, the most trusted (and funniest) newsman alive
1975 Sunny Mabrey film/tv actress (Snakes on a Plan, Species III)
1979 Daniel Henney actor (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Three Rivers), Bean Pole model
1984 Mary Elizabeth Winstead, horror star (The Ring Two, Final Destination 3, Grindhouse). Next up: bigger stardom via "Ramona V. Flowers" in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
2004 Twin Spawn of JULIA aka Hazel & Phinnaeous Moder

Today is also the 252nd anniverary of the birth of poet/painter William Blake. His work, often questioning organized religion (though he was spiritual himself) influenced the writing of The Golden Compass. There are still more movie connections. Johnny Depp reads his verse and is named after him in Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. Blake's painting 'The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun' is the one that Ralph Fiennes was so hungry for in Red Dragon. Because in the movies, you see, all serial killers are well educated aesthetes who love classical music and art and not seemingly average blue collar men like they tend to be statistically in real life. It's just part of Hollywood's dependable anti-intellectualism. Beware the big brain! It wants to eat your liver with some fava be... (well, you know the rest)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Directors of the Decade: Lars von Trier

Robert here, continuing my series of the directors that shaped the past 10 years. I know I promised another Pixar guy last week and we’ll get to him soon. But since everyone just finished celebrating the ultimate American holiday, I thought I’d appropriately take a look at one of the country’s greatest cinematic cheerleaders. A man who has never been to America but makes so many films about it, it's obvious he really loves the place. Lars von Trier

Number of Films: Six (or Five and a half, considering a co-director credit)
Modern Masterpieces: Probably none. I feel like I’ve been overly generous with this term since I denied it to Scorsese back in entry #1. Still the film that comes closest is Dogville
Total Disasters: No total disasters but several partial ones.
Better than you remember: None. Actually all of Von Trier’s films this decade have been pretty accurately received.
Awards: Had four films shown at Cannes and won the Palme d’Or for Dancer in the Dark. And did you know Lars is an Oscar (and Golden Globe) nominee? That would be for co-writing Dancer in the Dark’s Best Original Song entry “I Have Seen it All”
Box Office: Dogville’s gross topped a million. Thank Nicole Kidman for her status.
Critical Consensus: Highest rated is The Five Obstructions. Highest rated non-documentary would be The Boss of it All (more on why this is weird later).
Favorite Actor: Udo Kier of course… you knew that.

Let’s talk about:
Mischief. Sure that seems like a bit of an understatement considering the fury and misery that Von Trier’s latest film is inspiring. But “mischief” I think is the perfect term. Von Trier considers himself a provocateur, an artist whose inspiration comes not from real life, love, poetry or truth but his desire to get under people’s skin. I don’t think Von Trier considers himself much more than a rascal. Take The Five Obstructions. One of his most telling films, simply because we get to see him on camera talking, explaining his thought process and motives. Each time director Jorgen Leth successfully meets Von Trier’s challenges, Lars reformulates his plan while openly admitting his goal of making Leth experience a real psychological disturbance, all the while laughing and smiling. Lars von Trier doesn’t really take himself too seriously but he makes films that are serious, brutal and intentionally offensive. As art, sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Dancer in the Dark, his first film of the decade (not counting The Idiots which was finished and released in Europe in 99 but America in 00) is a good example of Lars’s inconsistency. In fact his entire “Sacred Heart Trilogy” demonstrates how Lars is a great technician, able to work well with actors (here Björk is fantastic) and evoke genuine emotional involvement from his audience. But the path he takes to provoke the audience isn’t always as successful. Lars’s “sacred heart” females must be so insistently innocent (almost unrealistically unwilling to defend themselves against adversity) to prove his point about society’s evils that this point gets lost in the mix. When his protagonists display less manufactured naïveté, such as Nicole Kidman’s Grace in Dogville, his movies fare much better. Kidman’s performance and a plot that turns up the shock and awe naturally combine to make Dogville Lars’s most successful film of this decade. Oh sure, critical reaction was mixed, but for Lars von Trier, critical acclaim will never equal great success, since critical acclaim requires making a lot of people happy.

Welcome to Dogville

This is why The Boss of it All, Lars’s most critically acclaimed film may, in fact, be his greatest failure. After the disastrous Manderlay, in which Lars hits us with so many racial offenses (including lazy and ignorant slaves, preachy white guilt, an interracial sex scene featuring a submissive white woman and aggressive black man, and yes, even blackface) and is so blatant in its attempt to offend that it can’t possibly succeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if Lars was absolutely spent. So with The Boss of it All he tried a different, non-thematic provocation. Automavision allowed a computer to decide what pans tilts and movements the camera would make. So was Lars suggesting that the director or the cinematographer was no longer necessary, that a computer could do just as good a job? No one seemed to care. The resulting film was a successful comedy and the process offended no one. Great reviews. Lars could not have been happy.

For the past half-year, Lars has been getting his revenge, torturing critics and audiences with Antichrist. It’s another well constructed, well acted film with content so determined to provoke it’s success can only be partial. But provoke it has, and stir discussion it has. Lars may not have a great piece of art on his hands but he’s certainly cemented his status as one of cinema’s greatest provocateurs. And that is noteworthy. In an age of torture-porn teen flicks, realty TV trash, instant internet hardcore, and non-stop phony political outrage it’s not easy to genuinely provoke people anymore. Von Trier isn’t always successful and his lack of consistency may preclude him from being among the greatest directors of the decade. But he’s successful enough to be one of the most important and interesting directors of the decade. He’s in tune with the zeitgeist… just enough to know how to poke it in the eye, with a wink and a smile.

F&L: Classic

First and Last: taking the classic approach today in both subject (horror classic) and form of this series (the first image after the opening credits and last image before "the end")

Can you guess the movie?

Highlight for the answer: THE FLY (1958) "Help meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee"
for all first and last puzzles, click the label below

Birthday Suits, Asia Major

Do you ever celebrate the birthdays of your favorite movie folk? You should. Here are your options for 11/27

Michael Vartan, Bruce Lee

1940 Bruce Lee Chinese American trailblazer, 70s icon, legend. Without him, whose to say how long it would have taken martial arts films to gain as much international popularity? Without him, no Uma Thurman in a yellow track suit.
1951 Kathryn Bigelow director, action fan. An Oscar nominee in about 2 months and a week.
1956 William Fichtner actor
1957 Callie Khouri, screenwriter. She'll always have Thelma & Louise
1957 Kevin O'Connell, the most nominated never-winning Oscar anything. He's been nominated 20 times (!) for his sound work. He has only his Emmy and lucrative blockbuster heavy career to comfort him. His next project is the Gyllenhaal action flick Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. [editor's note: You may recall that the second podcast ever here at TFE was an interview with his then working partner Greg P Russell whose own Oscar tally totals 12 nominations without a win.]

1963 Fisher Stevens, Michelle Pfeiffer's boyfriend during her Catwoman years
1968 Michael Vartan, French-American actor (Alias)
1978 Unax Ugalde, Spanish hottie... seduced Julianne Moore's son in Savage Grace and played the young version of Javier Bardem in Love in the Time of Cholera. Co-stars soon in Roland Joffe's There Be Dragons.
1985 Alison Pill, actress of stage (Oleanna) and screen (Milk)

Finally, Tadanobu Asano, hip Japanese actor turns 36 years old today. He recently starred in the Oscar nominated Mongol but that's just one in a series of lauded films he's made this decade. He was also featured in Ichi the Killer, Zatoichi and two films for acclaimed Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang The Invisible Waves and Last Life in the Universe. His face will become even more familiar to international auds in two years time. He's joined the star heavy cast of Kenneth Branagh's Thor (2011). He'll play "Hogun" one of the Warriors Three. The warriors (two) will be played by Ray Stevenson and Stuart Townsend Theron.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nathaniel Thanks You

I am surely in a friend & food coma while you're reading this. Happily so! This Thanksgiving I'm grateful for all of you. You keep coming back daily to read the latest cinematic musings here at The Film Experience. Obsessing on the movies is really meant to be a team sport so I appreciate the fine company. They don't make movie theaters with one seat in them.

So thank you for being here daily from all over the world -- not just the States -- with an especially amorphous shout out to readers in Canada, the UK, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Spain, France, Mexico and The Philippines. You've always been supportive. And a big hug to my magical elves contributors who've really helped keep the blog going during a difficult year.

Normal programming resumes tomorrow but I must give thanks to the following sources of cinematic happiness at the moment: ambiguous endings, Liz & Monty, the canine ensemble in Valentino The Last Emperor, Colin Firth's spontaneous tears, Brad Pitt speaking Italian, cross dissolves, Viggo, Klute, Trudy Kockenlocker, Daniel Day-Lewis's salacious line readings in My Beautiful Laundrette "in my experience it's always worth waiting for Omar", Cary Grant, Alexandre Desplat, Penélope Cruz's breasts, "It twirlllled up!", Joseph Gordon-Levitt dancing, Gilda, that closeup of Jake Gyllenhaal, Heavenly Creatures' Mario Lanza fixation, Emmanuel Lubezki, Abbie Cornish's aggressive but amateur flirting in Bright Star, "Bingo!", Debbie Reynolds and cake in Singin' in the Rain, Nicole Kidman framed through the DP's camera in Nine, Dogville's set, that ornate black disc hat in Chéri, Tilda Swinton in black mask, the family cat in Mrs. Miniver, Ingrid Bergman's liquid closeups in Casablanca, the way Jeff Bridges runs his fingers through his hair or across his guitar or under Pfeiffer's dress, Meryl as Karen Silkwood, Paul Newman as Hud, silent film intertitles, The Awful Truth, "My Husband Makes Movies" and All That Jazz.

Jose Gives Thanks.

Jose here.

Although we don't have anything resembling Thanksgiving in my culture (Penélope Cruz was talking about that on Letterman the other day) I have a special place in my heart (and stomach) for turkey, gravy and pumpkin pie.

I also feel very grateful for the following: Technicolor, Woody Allen banter, Judy Garland's smile, the millisecond of suspense between normal talking and spontaneous singing in the musicals, post-Volver Penélope, the Truffaut/Hitchcock book, still being thrilled by the sepia-to-color switch in The Wizard of Oz, Nino Rota and La Strada, Julia Roberts' laugh, Scarlett and Rhett, Bette Davis' eyes, Ingrid Bergman's Italian phase, Jett Rink, Jacques Tourneur horror flicks, The Blob, pre-supermom Gwyneth, WALL-E, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Anne Hathaway at award shows, Brando as Kowalski, Meryl!, Gene Kelly's butt, subtitles...

Audrey Hepburn's weird morning eating habits circa '61, Nathaniel letting me write all of this, West Side Story, Madge dancing as Susan, the Green Fairy and knowing that as I write this there's still thousands of movies I haven't seen, ready for me to feel grateful about them later on.

Beloved Turkey: Vibes

Alexa from Pop Elegantiarum here to share a turkey for Thanksgiving. When Vibes arrived in theaters in 1988, I was predisposed to like it for a number of reasons. First, there was Cyndi Lauper in her first starring role. In the great Madonna/Cyndi debate of the mid-80s, I was firmly in Cyndi's camp. (Keep in mind that I was 12 years old at the time.) Second was her co-star, Jeff Goldblum, on whom I'd harbored a crush since watching his Seth Brundle awkwardly woo Geena Davis at the beginning of The Fly. (I chose to ignore the gallons of puss he spewed later in the film.) As an added bonus there was Julian Sands, whom I'd also mooned over since he swung from a tree in A Room with a View. Finally, add a zany Peter Falk, pathologically lying à la Vincent Ricardo, and you had the stuff of my cinematic dreams.

Well, not so much. It really is pretty terrible. But I still enjoy Vibes, even as I guiltily add it to my Netflix queue today. Lauper and Goldblum play Sylvia Pickel and Nick Deezy, a pair of psychics hired by Falk's character to travel to Ecuador in search of lost treasure. The best scenes are before any Incan treasure is introduced (with some resulting effects-laden nonsense), when the characters meet bug-eyed cute in New York. Sylvia finds that her sometime boyfriend (a young Steve Buscemi) only wants her for her ability to pick the best horse at the track. Meanwhile, Nick uses his ability to pick up underwear and know just who has been touching it to confirm his girlfriend has been "playing bouncy-bouncy with another guy."

The script, by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, is filled with those kind of gems, a sort of slapstick-meets-sympathy vibe perfect for an 80s Ron Howard (see their scripts for Night Shift, Splash, and Parenthood). But Ron wasn't in charge on this one. Instead, director Ken Kwapis brought all the subtlety of his previous effort, Follow That Bird. But hey, as Kwapis said in an US Magazine (remember when it was an entertainment rag?) interview at the time, "I knew that there was something so wrong about it that it had to work." Unfortunately all the wrongs here didn't add up to a right. But it is fun to watch the effort.

Glenn Gives Thanks

Australia's only knowledge of Thanksgiving is, essentially, what we see from TV and the movies. I feel then that it is only fitting that I "give thanks" for a certain woman who has shaped by idea of Thanksgiving more than any other: Christina Ricci.

Bless her lil cotton socks, but Christina Ricci had already solidified herself in the annals of cinema history by the age of 17 with her performance in Ang Lee's The Ice Storm. The gifts of that film are many, but the bit that I always remember first and foremost is the toast that Ricci's Wendy gives. Let us relive it:

Dear Lord, thank you for this Thanksgiving holiday. And for all the material possessions that we have and enjoy. And for letting us white people kill all the Indians and steal their tribal lands. And stuff ourselves like pigs, even though children in Asia are being napalmed.

Literally very amazing. And if it weren't just The Ice Storm keeping the Ricci Thanksgiving alive it would be Addams Family Values, a movie in which Ricci gives one of the best supporting actress performances of the decade (the Oscar, however, went to the New Zealand child, Anna Paquin). That Thanksgiving pageant is delightfully insane, and Ricci's speech is something to behold. The best moment in the film is Wednesday's smile. The faint crack of a smile that she emits to shocked onlookers. "I'm not perky."

Thank you Christina Ricci for services towards making Thanksgiving somewhat relevant to people outside of America. You'll always have a place in my heart!

What's Birthday Got To Do With It?

Cinematic birthdays to celebrate on this day, 11/26. If its your special day, we dedicate a Tina Turner song to you.

Peter, Arjun and La Cicciolina

1922 Charles M Schultz, Peanuts!
1933 Robert Goulet, actor/singer
1951 La Cicciolina, provocateur. Don't you think she needs a biopic? OK, maybe a few decades from now and by some fringe director, once the MPAA ratings system has completely broken down
1966 Garcelle Beauvais, beautiful blacktress
1972 Arjun Rampal, award winning Bollywood actor and spurned Kidman love interest
1973 Peter Facinelli, actor, underwear fan, patriarch vampire
1974 Tammy Lynn Michaels, former actress, current Mrs. Melissa Etheridge
1986 Trevor Morgan, actor

And finally, let's give it up for the legendary Tina Turner. You're simply the best... ♪ you're better than all the rest... better than anyone... anyone i ever met. She turns the big 7-0 today. You know she coulda been in more pictures had she wanted it post Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Loved her as 'Auntie Entity'. But since she didn't really care about acting, at least she let others do it for her. All hail the great Angela Bassett, Tina's cinematic counterpart in that fiery Oscar nominated star turn in What's Love Got To Do With It (1993). What's your favorite Tina Turner song? Sing it out in the comments. I'll start...
You better be good to me
That's how it's gotta be now
Cause I don't have no use
For what you loosely call the truth
You better be good to me...
That's mine! Not from a movie alas. Not that I don't love her movie songs and since this The Film Experience, let's hear 'em. Here's the underrated "I Don't Wanna Fight" from her biopic and the classic "We Don't Need Another Hero" from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

JA Gives Thanks...

... for the weirdly discomfiting scene at the pizza place early on in Ti West's terrific horror-throwback The House of the Devil. It cements everything that the film does so well, from the uncannily spot-on period detail to the off-kilter hum of dread throbbing below the most banal of surfaces. Greasy pizza will murder us all!

Plus Greta Gerwig's hairstyle is just flippin' rad.
[Editor's Note: the official site says this is now available VOD if you're curious]