Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Oscars 06: Here we go again

This year is all about three people: George Clooney, Paul Haggis, Diana Ossana. Clooney is the first person to get producer/director and acting nods for two different movies. Haggis was up for writing Million Dollar Baby last year, and is now up three more times as writer, director (his debut) and producer of Crash. Diana Ossana is the one who got the rights from Annie Proulx many years ago; she'd never made a feature film before Brokeback Mountain and now she's up for producing and co-writing it. So congratulations to them. They deserve this. Now, on with itemized reactions to and observations of the nominations:

1. Boring. No surprises. Howard and Knightley come close, but they were always on the shortlist. I saw Hurt coming a mile away. I would've appreciated the presence of Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Joan Allen, Ralph Fiennes, David Cronenberg, Thandie Newton and Angus MacLachlan.

2. This is the first time since 1981 that the best picture nominees' corresponding directors have all been nominated.

3. Judi Dench, who has been making movies since the '60s, gets her fifth nomination in eight years. This is Woody Allen's 21st over 28 years. John Williams gets his 44th and 45th (he's won five, but none since '93). McMurtry's last and only previous nomination was in '72. Tim Burton gets his first.

4. MTV Films has two babies in the mix, Hustle & Flow and Murderball. The studio's last nomination came in '99 with Election, which starred...

5. ...Reese Witherspoon, who told reporters in Berlin that she was "completely surprised" by her nomination. Fräulein, you are a fräud. You weren't tipped off by the Golden Globe and awards from SAG, the Broadcast Film Critics, Boston Society of Film Critics, National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Circle, Online Film Critics and San Francisco Critics Circle? Give me a break.

6. Four of the five best pic nominees were produced by small studios or specialty divisions of bigger ones (Munich, of Universal and DreamWorks, is the major player of the bunch).

7. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room gets its nomination the day after the trials begin.

8. Maria Bello is snubbed again (her last expected nomination was for The Cooler a couple years back). She was a victim of the leading/supporting factor, which probably split her vote. She should've followed the lead of...

9. ...Jake Gyllenhaal, who gets a supporting nom for a leading role. It's just one of the moves in the chess games that studios play.

10. My favorite, Roger Ebert, got a lot of things wrong in his Oscar coverage, but corrections have since been made online. He reported that Clooney was a producer on Good Night, and Good Luck and that Don Cheadle was a producer on Crash. Ebert's an institution, but someone should still factcheck him.

11. I am pleased that Bird York's "In the Deep" was nominated for best song, but it was released in 2003 as part of her CD "The Velvet Hour." It was my understanding that eligibility was limited to songs written specifically for a movie (this was why Moulin Rouge's "Come What May" was disqualified in 2001; it was initially written for Romeo + Juliet). What gives? On the plus side, there were only three noms in the song category, which should be abolished anyway.

12. I love Catherine Keener, but I see no reason for her inclusion. The spot should've been filled by Thandie Newton.

13. Haggis was a writer on "The Facts of Life," which featured Clooney.

14. Oscar pool stuff is forthcoming. Stay tuned.

15. Thoughts?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Waiting for 'Peter MacNichol ass nude'

Ninety-five percent of this site's meager traffic comes from people searching for images. Sometimes I look at Site Meter to see what word combinations lead people here. Recently, one fly-by-night arrived at As Little as Possible by searching "Emma Thompson pics boobs." I am sad for this fly-by-night (is it Branagh?), but happy for Emma, who apparently, at 46, still has commanding cleavage.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The leather bucket seats are good for bad backs

Product placement has always been a distraction, however slight, in movies. I remember seeing The Rookie and being giddy when Dennis Quaid took his first look at a major league ballpark from the pitcher's mound. The camera circled him as he spun slowly, reveling in the cheers, and what was that above his left shoulder? It was a Southwest Airlines banner on the back wall of the stadium. It took up about a quarter of the screen, as I remember, and was never out of that rotating shot. At the movie's pivotal moment, it was just Quaid's wonderstruck face and Southwest red-and-orange.

If that's the way it's gotta be, fine. But I'm rankled by the Firewall ad campaign, which gives Chrysler's latest junk model equal airtime and adspace with Harrison Old. I mean Ford. The trailer shows Ford zipping around parking garages in the Chrysler, evading bad guys in "style" (the above image is from the latest issue of EW). Don't know why, but this campaign makes me feel like a dumbass, like it's assuming I'm susceptible to it, like I'm going buy that Chrysler model the same day I plunk down $10 to see Firewall. It's a goddamn Chrysler. Old might as well be driving a white Buick.

It would've been less annoying if Warner Bros. and Chrysler approached their greedy symbiosis with the aplomb of BMW and Paramount, who managed to showcase the MINI Cooper as part of the plot of The Italian Job. The MINI is a cool car, it works with the movie, and the ad campaign didn't even feature it. I saw the movie in the summer of 2003. It's now two and a half years later, and guess what I use to zip around Chinatown? I'll give you a hint: it's British racing green. Sometimes a little subtlety goes a long way.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

'...people so lofty they sound as if they shit marble!'

It was Wolfie's 250th birthday yesterday, so why not pay homage by listening to the Jupiter symphony in the dark, or by dousing your hair with baby powder, or by watching the only biopic that's ever succeeded, Amadeus. Sadly, this rapturous cinematic peak signaled the downfall of stars F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce, who haven't been heard from since. On the upside, the pale, snivelling little girl who played Lorl the Errand Wench went on to do some notable things. Her name was Cynthia Nixon, and I guess she gets the last laugh.

Friday, January 27, 2006

More good news

I have been waiting for this since I was first stunned into stupor by Network as a high school freshman. Could this be? I thought. Could I have just watched the greatest movie ever made? I have seen it 20 times since, and the question presents itself every time at the end, and every time the answer is "yes." A two-disc special edition (at left) will be released Feb. 28 with long-overdue features.

The current DVD is grossly inadequate, with its crappy sound transfer, a banal trivia game that looks like it was assembled by a chimp, and intentional noisy static between menu options.

The special edition looks well-rounded. There is a six-part making-of documentary, a feature on über-screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, and what looks like an appreciation by Walter Cronkite. But the crown jewel of the set will no doubt be director Sidney Lumet's audio commentary. Lumet is a wonderful human being and a precise and passionate artist -- you need only read his Making Movies, or remember his honorary Oscar speech from last year, or listen to his superb audio commentary for The Verdict to know how deep and wide his reserve of talent and humanity is. Meanwhile, I'm directing a frown at Faye Dunaway, for whom I've maintained respect and who no doubt was approached to do commentary, but didn't.

A final message to Warner Bros.: Thank you for doing this before Lumet kicks it. Now please do a special edition for Bonnie & Clyde, whose current DVD is also a wasteland. The creative team for B&C is 100 percent not dead: director Arthur Penn, writer Robert Benton, editor Dede Allen, and actors Warren Beatty, Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Michael J. Pollard, and Estelle Parsons. Get on it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Surrr-prise...this is the best day of my life

They're making a movie of Comedy Central's sublime improv COPS parody Reno 911!! (That's two exclamation points -- one to comply with the official title and one to illustrate the joyous paroxysm I just suffered.) The movie is irresistably named Reno 911!: Miami, which leads me to believe this is the start of a glorious franchise...Reno 911!: New York...Reno 911!: Sacramento...Reno 911!: Butte, etc. Who cares if the gifted cast's talent withers on the big screen! I'd do anything to experience Trudy Wiegel in Cinemascope. The news broke Jan. 4, but somehow I missed it. Maybe it's because Reno 911!, as a show, is vastly under-promoted. But news of this movie and of Showtime's pitch for Arrested Development promise better days for marginalized fans.

Monday, January 23, 2006

My Academy ballot

Nominations ballots were due Saturday. Academy voters rank their choices to round out a category; the top picks are assigned greater weight. This list would be mine.


1. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
2. Yes
3. Syriana
4. Junebug (at right)
5. Millions


1. Stephen Gaghan, Syriana
2. Phil Morrison, Junebug
3. Danny Boyle, Millions
4. Sally Potter, Yes
5. Christopher Nolan, Batman Begins (at right)

Actor in a Leading Role

1. Robert Downey Jr., Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mysterious Skin
3. Damien Lewis, Keane (at right)
4. David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck
5. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

Actress in a Leading Role

1. Joan Allen, Yes
2. Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
3. Charlize Theron, North Country
4. Judi Dench, Mrs. Henderson Presents
5. Emmanuelle Devos, Kings & Queen (at right)

Actor in a Supporting Role

1. Matt Dillon, Crash
2. Val Kilmer, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (at right)
3. Ben Kingsley, Oliver Twist
4. Richard Jenkins, North Country
5. George Clooney, Syriana

Actress in a Supporting Role

1. Taryn Manning, Hustle & Flow (at right)
2. Amy Adams, Junebug
3. Thandie Newton, Crash
4. Naomi Watts, King Kong
5. Frances McDormand, North Country

Adapted Screenplay

1. Stephen Gaghan, Syriana
2. Josh Olson, A History of Violence
3. Gregg Araki, Mysterious Skin (at right)
4. Diana Ossana & Larry McMurtry, Brokeback Mountain
5. Jeffrey Caine, The Constant Gardener

Original Screenplay

1. Woody Allen, Match Point (at right)
2. Shane Black, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
3. Paul Haggis, Crash
4. Angus MacLachlan, Junebug
5. Sally Potter, Yes

After doing this exercise, I'm again reminded of the absurdity of rating and ranking art. Sure, there's good art and bad art, but it is frustrating and nonsensical to order the best of the best into a list. Why is Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang at the top of my picture list while Shane Black is absent from the directors? Just how much better is Robert Downey Jr.'s performance than Joseph Gordon-Levitt's? Why is Yes ahead of Junebug on the picture list, but behind it on both the director and screenplay lists? There's really no way to judge it, aside from the lingering ephemeral "vibe" of the work in question. So, these are the vibes.

(Disclaimer: I've seen but a fraction of 2005's eligible films.)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Good news bad news

Good news: Junebug is wonderful. Finally got around to it. Loved loved loved it. Sony Pictures Classics mounted an early and aggressive campaign for Amy Adams, and it's paid off so far. But the film as a whole is a wonder -- especially the expert cast -- and should've been backed for (at the very least) screenplay awards. Mmm, nothing like a good movie.

Bad news: "Hi, I'm a Fox executive. My network has the the greatest show produced by the medium of television and, as such, we've tried to keep it hidden from as many people as possible by switching its air date and time, often pulling it from the schedule for weeks on end. So we're cancelling it. But before we do, we're going to put the last four episodes in a two-hour block. And we're going to put it on a Friday night. Opposite the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics. Enjoy, sayonara, and make sure to watch 'Stacked' on Thursdays at 9 starting in March!"

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

From "Dick frightens me" to "You don't go up there to fish"

Upon reaching that eureka moment of PSH is better in Twister than Capote, I got to thinking. Installment No. 2 of "They Were Better in..." features apple-pie-faced Michelle Williams, the first Dawson's Creeker to court Oscar (which is different from courting an Oscar nominee). Yes, in Brokeback Mountain, Williams frets quietly over her husband's emotional distance. It's a small, genuine performance deserving of the attention. However, let's not forget Dick, in which Williams plays mousey Arlene Lorenzo, one half of a teenaged duo (with Kirsten Dunst) that become secret youth advisers for Richard Nixon. Williams exhibits a wonderful flair for absurd comedy, making Arlene's burgeoning teen crush on Nixon both ridiculous and full-hearted.

Monday, January 16, 2006

They go to an after-party; I stew in self-hate

The part of me that revels in awards shows withered and expired about the time Isaac Mizrahi (who?) referred to Charlize Theron's playing of Aileen Wuornos in Monster as a "scary dyke with no teeth." That was on the E! red carpet Golden Globes preshow, sorely missing the necessary tonic of Kathy Griffin.

Speaking of this Mizrahi f*ckwheat, he asks Hilary Swank: "Do you try to dress sexy since you're single now?" Uh, the Swank-n-Lowe "split" was announced just last week, and Swank replied with the proper peevishness, "No no no, I'm not single. I'm trying to work my marriage out." Celebrities, as a rule, must make concessions with their personal life, but none should be subjected to idiotic and insensitive questions like Mizrahi's. Also, he took it upon himself to prod Scarlett Johansson's breasts. Being gay does not give you a free pass to toss around "dyke" and grope women. I wish Johansson would've stood up for herself and slapped the sh*t out of him. All this ire before the show even started.

I guess it says something about the show that I'm still talking about before it when it is now, in fact, after it. It was a redundant, shockless night. Brokeback ruled, Ang Lee (above left, with Grizzle) further cemented the tenet that no foreigner can pronounce "Hollywood Foreign Press." Item: sincere thanks, Geena Davis, for parodying the self-importance of your industry with a great speech. Item: it's settled; Emma Thompson is my favorite person in the world.

In other news, Renée Zellweger and Ellen Pompeo (who?) are now indistinguishable from each other.

Golden Globes predictions

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has to stop thinking that the Golden Globes is an awards show. It's not. Rather, it shouldn't be. We need some relief from the stodgy, scripted thank-you fests. If I was producing the show, I'd make sure all the nominees were good and drunk before airtime. We can only hope our celebrities realize that we want good television, not good behavior. Save it for the 'scars, people.


Motion Picture (Drama): Brokeback Mountain
Actress (D): Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
Actor (D): Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy): Pride & Prejudice
Actress (M/C): Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
Actor (M/C): Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line
Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener
Supporting Actor: Matt Dillon, Crash
Foreign Language Film: Kung Fu Hustle
Director: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Screenplay: Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco, Crash
Original Score: James Newton Howard, King Kong
Original Song: "A Love That Will Never Grow Old," Brokeback Mountain


Series (Drama): Lost
Actress (D): Glenn Close, The Shield
Actor (D): Hugh Laurie, House
Series (Musical/Comedy): My Name Is Earl
Actress (M/C): Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives
Actor (M/C): Steve Carrell, The Office
Mini Series/Motion Picture: Into the West
Actress (MS/MP): S. Epatha Merkerson, Lackawanna Blues
Actor (MS/MP): Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Elvis
Supporting Actress (S/MS/MP): Candice Bergen, Boston Legal
Supporting Actor (S/MS/MP): Jeremy Piven, Entourage

Saturday, January 14, 2006

No, I'm not joking

Evidenced by David Edelstein's obsequious missive to the Christ-like talent of Phil Seymour Hoffman, the awards season sends everyone into a congratulatory orgy (congratulorgy?). Critics suckle at the teets of actors, and no teet has been rubbed rawer than Hoffman's. Hold up. Capote is a blah film built around an interesting real person, hence the marginally interesting performance. To witness PSH's real reserve of talent, we must look to Twister. (Yes, the one where Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton make love upside down in an F5 tornado.) In Twister, PSH plays Dusty Davis, a frumpy, cowabunga-ish wind nerd. Next time it comes on TBS, keep your eye on PSH. He makes the movie at least three times more textured than it should be. He is always on the fringes of the screen (that's him in the red hat in the background), but it's a great, committed performance, many times that of his Capote, given the contexts.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha, a highfalutin version of the same old crap

Yeah, I haven't seen it, but I've endured its ridiculous preview 15 times; paroxysmal editing and spy-thriller music can't distract from the fact that Memoirs of a Geisha is a movie about, well, furniture. Thanks, Bobby Lee and MADtv, for expressing my rage in the proper manner.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Writing about Hostel is like pulling teeth

I have not seen Hostel, and why would I? The trailer, easily the most upsetting snippet of film out there, says that "at recent advanced screenings, paramedics were called in response to theater-goers' reactions to the film's intensity. You've been warned." This preview was approved for all audiences? Every time it blared before a feature in the last weeks, I buried my face in my friends' shoulders. I don't want to see a movie about a Slovakian torture chamber where paying customers have the privilege of slowly dismembering unsuspecting tourists. It's just not my thing, even after a couple of beers.

Evidently, it's everyone else's thing. Following in the footsteps of Saw and Saw II, Hostel was No. 1 at the weekend box office, hauling $20.5 mil. Assuming an average ticket price of $6.50, about 3.1 million people started their new year by wallowing in the gore and glory of torture. All this while various Cabinet officials tour the globe to assure everyone the United States doesn't torture detainees. We recoil in embarrassment and outrage when we hear the government tortures, but then we pay to watch torture. I think this is hilarious and insane.

The horror film genre is respected, enduring and, for the most part, sanctioned as art by academia and cinephilia. It seems to me, though, that there is enough difference between the intentions and methods of Halloween (for example) and Hostel to resurrect the question of merit. Halloween is all about a monster trying to kill people; the suspense is torturous. Hostel appears to be only about torture itself. Should it belong in the genre of pornography?

I'm not one to draw lines or inveigh against alleged artlessness; directors can make their movies as sick as they want, and people can delight all they want in the depths of the sickness. I'm just fascinated about this contrary correlation between the box office and the political climate. Again, I say all this without having seen Hostel. I'd appreciate comment, especially from crazies who have seen (and appreciated?) it.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

With Dahl out of the way, Deppurton assaults Sondheim

First, Sam Mendes and Russell Crowe were attached to direct and star in the film version of Stephen Sondheim's grand, gory musical "Sweeney Todd." Terrific. Add the beatific Emma Thompson as Mrs. Lovett? Wonderful. But now there's a report that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are the latest creative pair on board. Tragedy. They disgraced the legacy of Willy Wonka, and they'll do the same to "Sweeney." No doubt it will be all CGI, even the meat pies. And we'll have to put up with a Danny Elfman-ized version of Sondheim's glorious score. As Sweeney sings, there's a hole in the world like a great black pit and it's filled with people are who are filled with shit.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The 2005 DZ Awards

There are 311 movies eligible for the best picture Oscar this year. Too many movies are being made. This is bad because A) most are crappy, and B) a mortal can't keep up. I have not seen the Geisha movie, the new Woody, the one about the guy who likes bears (which then eat him), Pocahontas, Jane Austen: Jane Austen Returns, Fustle & Ho, etc. So here are my curbed year-end (or year-beginning?) notices for '05.

The Golden DZ goes to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang for having some friggin' fun with itself. Plenty of great movies are sad or introspective or brooding or whatever. That's fine; see last year's greatest movie, Million Dollar Baby, a masterpiece of autumnal regret and triumph. Sometimes, though, we need a little fizz at the theater. Kiss Kiss is a corker, an unadulterated delight. It's a Chandleresque mystery movie about the movies starring Robert Downey Jr. (our greatest working screen actor?) as a petty thief turned action hero and Val Kilmer as the private dick who guides him through an obstacle course of pulpy plot twists.

The Silver DZ goes to Yes, a rapturous Joycean story about how we strive to transcend the mess we make, featuring Joan Allen in her career-best performance.

The Bronze DZ
goes to Syriana, which ennobles cinema as a medium. It's smart, suave and utterly relevant.

The rest of the top 10, in alpha order: Brokeback Mountain blah blah moving blah blah stirring blah blah blah. Go-to guy Paul Haggis' Crash, visually and verbally stunning, with a standout performance by Matt Dillon. A History of Violence, the movie that watches you. Millions, Danny Boyle's wondrous and charming fable about salvation and currency exchange. Mysterious Skin, a deft and disarming adaptation of Scott Heim's novel, with several gutsy performances. North Country and its masterful cast. Proof, which just about shakes off its staginess, in which Gwyneth and Hope Davis finally act (and act well).

Honorable Mentions: The Nicolas Cage twofer Lord of War and The Weather Man, both bitterly funny autopsies of a man's eroding psyche. Roman Polanski's gritty, grand Oliver Twist, with Ben Kingsley's booger-y performance as Fagan. The Squid and the Whale and its painfully real family dynamic. Munich, a stunning thriller (with an overlooked and subdued performance by Eric Bana) that falters in its last seven minutes. The Constant Gardener, another virtuosic Meirelles piece. Good Night, and Good Luck, sharpened to a point, so subtle it's explosive. Mrs. Henderson Presents, a jolly trifle from Stephen Frears, with great comic chemistry between Dame Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins. The rich, unnerving documentary The Devil & Daniel Johnston. The atmospheric Batman Begins, well-oiled by Chris Nolan, one of the great modern directors.


The Jurassic Park Thrills & Chills Award, in a tie, goes to War of the Worlds and King Kong. Seeing Jurassic Park (three times) in theaters when I was 10 is my earliest memory of being transported by a movie. Spielberg does it again 12 years later, and he and Peter Jackson prove they are master craftsmen of keeping real the high-CGI barnburning blockbuster.

The Where was the Script Girl? Award goes to The Interpreter, which, by cutting the scene in which Nicole Kidman overhears the assassination plans, would've been a hundred times more thrilling.

The Mickey Rourke Careful-with-Your-Career Award goes to -- no, not Mickey Rourke (Sin City blew) -- Richard Jenkins, who movingly played Charlize Theron's father in the excellent North Country and slummed in the dismal Fun with Dick and Jane as one of Jim Carrey's bibulous bosses.

The Sometimes Real People Aren't That Interesting Plaque, in a tie, goes to Walk the Line and Capote. The first was Ray with bottles instead of needles. The second is one of the best reviewed and most honored movies of the year, and I don't know why. It is tiresome and boring.

The Someone Get This Man a Franchise Award goes to Joss Whedon, for his swashbuckling Serenity.

The Someone Take Away This Man's Franchise Award goes to George Lucas, for the last (please God let it be the last) installment of Star Wars.

The Best Use of Punctuation Award goes to Miranda July's pert, pleasant indie hit Me & You & Everyone We Know.

Blissfully Overrated Medals go to Wedding Crashers, Broken Flowers, Capote, Sin City.

The One Gigantic Leap Backward for Mankind Citation
goes to Riding the Bus with My Sister, which must be seen to be believed.

Now please offer your own awards.