Tennessee Williams to Peter Bart: “Don’t hang back with the brutes!”

In the latest Mike Fleming-Peter Bart discussion riff on Deadline (posted today around noon), Bart puts down Birdman because it doesn’t play with Average Joes. “Critics don’t like to admit it, but the conditions under which you see a film strongly influence your opinion,” he says. “Birdman is a good example. If you see a film like this with a pack of cinephiles like at Telluride, everyone gets every inside joke, and you instinctively go along with the crowd. I made it a point to see Birdman with a paid civilian audience and it was like screening it in a mausoleum. No laughs, just occasional grunts and lots of walkouts.”

No shit, Peter? The average ticket-buyer has always been on the common side of the equation. He/she is simply less sensitive and attuned to wit and innovation and “da coolness” than movie-mad festivalgoers, and so a film that plays well at Telluride or Sundance is naturally going to have less of a heartbeat in front of a crowd of popcorn-munching Joes. Never judge a film by how it plays with those guys…please.


For Doing The Thing, Aniston Deserves Respect

I saw about 80% of Jennifer Aniston‘s Cake at the Toronto Film Festival, but I caught it again today (12 noon screening, Pacific Design center) start to finish. It’s basically an acting showcase drama with a highly commendable performance from Aniston, for which she’s currently taking bows around town in hopes of landing a Best Actress nomination. The film over-plays the meditation card and eventually becomes tedious — everybody just ambles along in this thing, behaving and commenting and sometimes weeping and arguing but never doing all that much. (Except, that is, when Aniston and her long-suffering assistant, superbly played by Adriana Barraza, drive to Mexico for pain pills.) But given that it’s a relatively weak year for actresses it’s not that crazy to suggest that Aniston, on the merit of her performance alone, could make the cut. And in so doing she might develop a new career groove in which she makes fewer crap-level successes like We’re The Millers and Horrible Bosses.

Cake star & exec producer Jennifer Aniston during this afternoon’s q & a at the Pacific Design Center. She’s dropped the weight she put on for the film, and her blonde hair looked fantastic. (Seriously, if I was a blonde female I’d want my hair to look just like hers. Really.) A young woman from the audience asked if she could have a hug, and of course Aniston obliged…but it felt a bit weird.

Cake is basically an indie slog about acute pain management and working past emotional anguish over some really bad stuff that happened a year or so back. The problem is that Aniston’s middle-aged character, deglammed and scar-faced and dropping handfuls of Percocets for the pain, wears out her welcome around the one-hour mark. The movie fails to pivot (in the Howard Suber sense of that term), and as much as you may enjoy her sharp-tongued commentary about anyone and anything she happens to find irritating or infuriating (including, to her immense credit, Orange County righties), you just don’t want to hang with this suffering crabhead any more. Enough. But at least Aniston (who exec produced) really gives it hell. She can be quite deft and subtle when she wants to be, always letting you know what’s happening inside with just the right amount of emphasis. And she certainly looks like a wreck with her stiff movements and brown stringy hair and somewhat heavier appearance.


Director, Actor, Actress: Pre-Thanksgiving

Boyhood‘s Big Play

The Boyhood screener arrived last night. The fold-out jacket is quite elaborate and almost flamboyant by IFC standards. Obviously IFC Films honchos and their award-season strategists sat down a couple of months ago and agreed to put a big chunk of their funds into this. “Screeners are key,” somebody said, “and if we play up Boyhood‘s importance by emphasizing rave reviews on an attention-getting jacket, it’ll be money well spent.” IFC Films screener jackets have never looked this swanky. This one equals if not betters the usual award-season screener packaging from the major distributors.

Kubrick’s Own Hand

It’s interesting to note that the 11.22.63 Dr. Strangelove screening would have happened at the former Leow’s Orpheum (now AMC Leows Orpheum 7), which is way the hell up on Third Avenue and 86th Street. Nowadays nobody holds screenings north of 68th or 72nd Street on either side of town. I don’t think I attended an invitational screening on 86th Street during my entire 2008-to-2011 New York experience. And note the time — 8:30 pm. No invitational screenings start at that hour these days. For as long as I’ve been a journalist they’ve all begun at 7 or 7:30 pm. This harkens back to the ancient theatrical tradition of Broadway plays starting at 8:30 pm.

Woods Is Tweeting Fairly Well

Rob Marshall and Stephen Sondheim‘s Into The Woods was screened for a crowd of mostly mild-mannered types at 4 pm on the Disney lot. (I’ll be seeing it Monday night.) Deadline‘s Pete Hammond: “Ad line for Into The Woods says ‘be careful what you wish for’. If your wish was a smart, charming, witty Sondheim film, it’s been granted.” (The ghost of Gene Shalit?) Sam Adams: “Into The Woods overstays welcome & bleeds its many charms. Meryl Streep kinda grand, but third act drag undoes what was a slight but enjoyable film.” Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson: “Gorgeous & expensive Sondheim. Applause for Meryl Streep and the opening number. Johnny Depp is fine in short bit as The Wolf.” Wait…”gorgeous & expensive” are sidestepping terms, don’t address how good it is. Jenelle Riley: “I loved Into the Woods though the tone veers between theatrical and realistic. Whole cast is great…especially Streep, Chris Pine.” Hammond again: “Into The Woods defines what a great ensemble cast really is. They all shine but Streep soars. Kendrick. Blunt, Pine, James Corden all terrific.” Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone: “You could call this a darker interpretation of Into the Woods. Chris Pine and Anna Kendrick standouts. And Streep, of course. Wins costumes walking in the door. More serious and sad than the stage show I saw. Teared up a few times.” Wait…costumes?

A Perfect Nichols Meditation

I’ve been susceptible to the perceptions of UCLA film professor Howard Suber since the mid ’90s, which is when I first listened to his smooth, buttery commentaries on the Criterion Collection laser discs of Mike NicholsThe Graduate, Fred Zinneman‘s High Noon and Billy Wilder‘s Some Like It Hot. In 2012 I asked Suber to pass along some specially burned DVDs of these discs, but they didn’t look so hot and they skipped from time to time. Now, lo and behold, a YouTube post does it right — the entire Graduate synched with Suber’s commentary, the exact same trip offered to those who watched and listened to the original Criterion laser disc.

If you love and value The Graduate, this version will add to your appreciation of the film in ways you never quite gathered on your own, I swear. And it’s a perfect opportunity for a seance with the spirit of Mr. Nichols, who left us three days ago.


Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

Best Picture Finalists: 1. Birdman (HE approved); 2. Boyhood; 3. Gone Girl (HE approved); 4. The Theory of Everything; 5. The Imitation Game; 6. A Most Violent Year(HE approved); 7. Whiplash (HE approved); 8. Selma; 9. Foxcatcher; 10. The Grand Budapest Hotel; 11. Interstellar; 12. American Sniper; 13. The Gambler. Unseen: Unbroken,Big Eyes.

Cult: Inherent Vice. Sturdy Generic WWII Actioner: Fury.

Most Visually Ravishing, "Painterly" Best Picture Contender: Mr. Turner, although I'd like to see it with subtitles down the road.

Best Director: Alejandro González Inarritu, Birdman (HE approved); 2. Richard Linklater, Boyhood; 3. David Fincher, Gone Girl (HE approved); 4. James Marsh, The Theory of Everything; 5. Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game; 6. Damian Chazelle, Whiplash; 7. Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher; 8. Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Tragic Absence of Sublime, World-Class Lead Performance due to (no offense to Roadside) an overly cautious release strategy: Paul Dano as Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy.

Best Director Maybes: Christopher Nolan, Interstellar; JC Chandor, A Most Violent Year; Angelina Jolie, Unbroken; David Ayer, Fury; Clint Eastwood, American Sniper.

Best Actor: 1. Michael Keaton, Birdman (HE approved); 2. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything; 3. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game; 4. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher; 5. Tom Hardy, The Drop/Locke. 6. Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner (despite my inability to hear half of Spall's dialogue due to his all-but-indecipherable British working-class accent); 7. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler; 9. Ben Affleck, Gone Girl; 9. Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins.

Best Actress: 1. Julianne Moore, Still Alice (is Sony Pictures Classics going to screen this any time soon or what?); 2. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl; 3. Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year/Miss Julie/Eleanor Rigby; 4. Anne Dorval, Mommy; 5. Reese Witherspoon, Wild; 6. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything; 7. Shailene Woodley, The Fault In Our Stars; 8. Amy Adams, Big Eyes.

Best Supporting Actor: 1. Edward Norton, Birdman (HE approved); 2. J.K. Simmons, Whiplash (HE approved); 3. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood; 4. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher; 5. Albert Brooks, A Most Violent Year; 6. Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice.

Best Supporting Actress: 1. Emma Stone, Birdman (HE approved); 2. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood; 3. Kristen Stewart, Still Alice / Clouds of Sils Maria / Camp X-Ray; 4. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game; 5. Jessica Lange, The Gambler; 6. Vanessa Redgrave, Foxcatcher.


Hoping To Be Norman Lloyd Later In Life

On 11.9 I missed, to my everlasting discredit, a 100th birthday party for the great Norman Lloyd. So as a make-up I went to the Aero last night to hear Lloyd speak about Alfred Hitchcock‘s Saboteur (in which he played the villain, Fry, who fell to his death from the Statue of Liberty at the finale) and to hear any other recollections he had a mind to share. Lloyd is a legendary raconteur. I hadn’t spoken to him since I visited his home nine years ago, so it was a slight surprise to realize that Lloyd is just as sharp now as then. My mom, bless her, is not the woman she was a decade or two ago (whose elderly parents are?), but Lloyd is amazing. After the interview an Aero employee presented him with a birthday cupcake and 150 people sang “Happy Birthday.” A great moment. Note: In the video Lloyd is talking about director Lewis Milestone, who liked to gamble, and the making of A Walk In The Sun (’45), in which Lloyd costarred.

I’m Not There

Aren’t most discerning moviegoers over the age of 35 ignoring The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1? Shouldn’t they be? I am, I can tell you. My general interpretation from the get-go is that the Hunger Games trilogy is a big “fuck you” to the Boomers who are sending GenY and GenX into a future laden with economic doom and despair. I might hate the films but I’ve no argument with the metaphor. Here’s my initial 3.20.12 review of the first Hunger Games flick. Confession: Jennifer Lawrence‘s a cappella singing of “The Hanging Tree” is oddly affecting.


“Puppy You Can’t Hate” Best Picture Theory

This morning Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone and I talked for 74 minutes about all the angles and dangles of the Best Picture situation. Expanding Selma glow, Birdman dazzle, slight Boyhood droop, ongoing Gone Girl backhanding despite aesthetic chops and impressive commercial success, The Theory of Everything vs. The Imitation Game, etc. Plus a detour about the collapse of Bill Cosby‘s career. Sasha’s best remark: The movie that wins the Best Picture Oscar is (a) the puppy you can’t hate and (b) the movie that gives you something to vote for. Again, the mp3.

Selma Refresh

I went to a Selma screening on the Paramount lot last night. I wanted to see if it would expand or sink in a bit more. Honestly? It did somewhat. It went up on my approve-o-meter. Somewhat. A lady I was with gave it a 9. I had it at 7.5 after my first viewing but I bumped it up to an 8 last night. I still think it’s a little too talky or speechy (and scenes that aren’t about speeches are mostly about situational assessments and strategy sessions, mostly by MLK and his homies, secondarily by Tom Wilkinson‘s LBJ and Tim Roth‘s George Wallace), too self-regarding at times, generally too slow and too darkly lighted in too many indoor scenes. The lady friend said that for her, many of the talky scenes actually delivered serious emotion. Okay. I recognize again that I’m in the minority and that I should probably just shut up from here on. I respect Selma, I have no argument with Selma, I want Selma to do well, etc.

(l. to r.) Ava DuVernay, David Oyelowo, producer Dede Gardner during post-screening q & a.

Selma director Ava DuVernay, Monique Thompson following last night’s Selma screening at Sherry Lansing Theatre on Paramount lot.


My Blood Runs Cold

Three or four days ago an especially malicious form of adware got into my Macbook Air. Before I knew it pages for Mackeeper kept popping up out of nowhere and strange ads were occupying the spaces of regular ads on the HE home page. [See below] It seemed wiser not to download just any adware-blocking or adware-expunging software unless it was recommended by a trusted source, so I decided to start with Apple tech support. Two of the tech guys I spoke with (out of a total of five) were “helpful” and conscientious as far as it went, but the adware still remained. I asked each one if they could recommend any particular adware-destroying software, but they said they didn’t know of any or couldn’t say, etc. Thanks, fellas! Yesterday afternoon I went down to the Mac store at the Grove and asked a Genius Bar guy, and he said no problem — we just have to download and install Adware Medic, which he promptly did. The adware fungus was erased and out of my Macbook Air ten minutes later. Thank you very much, Apple tech support, for keeping mum about Adware Medic despite my repeated pleas.

Screener Swag

What happened to the idea of the studios sending out Bluray along with DVD screeners? Or at least as options that a recipient can choose in advance? There’s nothing lacking about the Ida screener — it looks wonderful on my 60″ Samsung plasma. But high-def versions of films new and old are increasingly common these days via the VOD streaming options, and we’re all getting used to high-def resolutions so why not send out Blurays? It’s not as if creating or pressing Blurays is a more expensive process.

21st Century Hero, And Not Everybody Gets That

David Poland (@DavidPoland) tweeting the night before last to A.J. Schnack (@ajschnack) about the chances of Laura Poitras‘s Citizenfour to win the Best Feature-Length Documentary Oscar, or at least be voted one of the five nominees: “Doc branch isn’t shy about issues [so] CitizenFour is about 95% likely to be nominated. But it’s about 10% likely to win. Full Academy doesn’t like issues.”

Yes, I know — they like to feel emotionally stirred. Which is why Rory Kennedy‘s Last Days in Vietnam, which is about a few Americans risking the well-being of their careers in order to help their South Vietnamese friends escape retribution from the North Vietnamese just before the fall of Saigon. And yet some of us feel quite emotional — I think the word is actually “scared” — about the NSA having set up a vast domestic monitoring mechanism that will allow a “bad” government, should one ever be elected, to mess with people like George Orwell never imagined. Citizenfour is about a stand-up guy who went through a lot of grief in order to point this out and say to his countrymen and to the world, “Do you guys understand what’s happened here?” And Citizenfour caught this dramatic decision live, as it happened.

Everything Fades

Fledgling journo with the great Sterling Hayden on the Manhattan (i.e, Plaza Hotel) set of Frank Pierson’s King of the Gypsies, sometime in the fall of ’77 or thereabouts — my very first movie-set interview.

South side of Melrose between Westmount and Westbourne, roughly a week ago.

One of the really glorious things about being relatively young is the vibrant color of your hair. The color of Peter O’Toole’s hair in What’s New, Pussycat was an almost heavenly nut brown, robust and gleaming. The color had all but disappeared by the time I interviewed O’Toole 15 years later (for GQ, about his role in The Stunt Man) at his home in Hampstead Heath.

It’s not so much “dangerously” cute as odiously or corporately cute in a typically calculating, premeditated way…no?


A Coupla New York Guys React To The Gambler

Manhattan Wise Guy #1: “Finally saw The Gambler and it wasn’t as bad as everyone has been saying. Aside from the upbeat ending, of course, which blows. Saw N.Y. Post critic Lou Lumenick at the screening. He was wearing one of the most exhilarating sweaters of this century.” Manhattan Wise Guy #2: “What a dog. Loved John Goodman and Michael K. Williams but I thought it was dreadfully written. And I’d just re-watched the original and thought it hadn’t aged well.”

A Little Longer Than You Should

A little while ago I got into a polite back-and-forth with a friend about the qualitative differences between J.C. Chandor‘s A Most Violent Year and Ava Duvernay‘s Selma, which I saw again last night. I found myself responding a bit more supportively to Selma — it went up slightly on my rate-o-meter — but even its best scenes don’t approach the quality of this art-of-the-sell clip. THere’s nothing in Selma that’s as well-written or interesting or mesmerizing, really, as this. This scene is on a whole ‘nother level, particularly due to Oscar Isaac‘s Buddhist Zen calm. The way those 20somethings stand still as statues and respond with the slightest of expressions except for the guy who smirks, and Isaac’s response to that. The vibes in this scene are world-class. This is Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross material. You can feel it.


A Taste of Mellow Alpha

An ex-girlfriend recently said on Facebook that she “loves” this four-month-old ASL Grease video by Paul and Tina Sirimarco. I watched it…okay, cool, I get it. Paul and Tina seem like nice, kindly, up-attitude people, and they seem more happy than most couples I know. But who listens to “You’re The One That I Want” while driving? I’ll tell you who. People who go to see stage revivals of Grease and Chicago when they visit New York City once every five or ten years, that’s who. People who are unfailingly kind and sensitive and polite, and who wouldn’t mind being a little famous and maybe trading in on that and (who knows?) moving into a bigger, roomier home one day, and maybe vacationing in Cancun or Monte Carlo or Orlando Disney World if fortune permits. People who might have seen Gone Girl but focused only on the plot (as opposed to the actual substance of that David Fincher film) and were kind of bummed by the downbeat ending. People who would probably look at me blankly if I asked them what they thought of Birdman, Citizen Four, Boyhood, A Most Wanted Man, The Babadook, Locke, Nightcrawler, The Drop, etc.


Cultural Texts

In a just-posted piece about how the immediacy of online conversations and judgments brought about the downfall of Bill Cosby, Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson links to a Guardian piece by Lili Loofburow. The piece argues, Thompson says, “that TV recap culture has created an ‘ethical community’ of viewers, who engage with [TV] shows not just as entertainment, but as cultural texts.” Excuse me but I’ve been looking at movies this way my whole life. It’s a very rare film that isn’t a cultural text or artifact or reflection of something or other. Are there any film fanatics who don’t feel this way? No film exists as a stand-alone fantasy that evaporates when it’s over. Okay, some do, but most don’t. All films are about echoes, meditations, ping-backs. Morality, cultural character, sexual politics, political winds…you name it. No movie is an island. Everything, like, reflects everything.

It Tanked

“Not every Mike Nichols production was great. The first time I met him was in 1975, when, as a fledgling magazine writer, I spent days on the Culver City lot where he was shooting The Fortune, a seemingly can’t-miss period comedy starring Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. It missed by a mile, an outcome that seemed apparent to Nichols as well. But again, as I could now see in close-up, he was relentless in trying to fix it, never forsaking his urbane optimism and preternatural calm. As befit a former performer, he showed extraordinary patience with actors, including at least one who had a habit of turning up late and not always in peak condition.” — from Frank Rich’s Vulture piece about the late director, posted late this morning.

The exaggerated expressions worn by Warren Beatty and especially by Jack Nicholson suggest why Mike NicholsThe Fortune didn’t work. They were more or less trying to inhabit or reanimate the spirits of Laurel and Hardy, or so it seemed. A limited edition Twilight Time Bluray is streeting early next month (I think…Screen Archives doesn’t like to post dates).

Pure As The Driven Snow

Forget the award-season bunker mentality, forget the odds, forget handicapping and definitely forget the passions of Joe Popcorn. For herewith is my almost final list of 2014’s finest films, totalling 23 and compiled with a focus on world-class coolness, aesthetic exceptionalism and serious envelope-pushing originality. Obviously I’ll update after seeing Unbroken, Into The Woods, Winter Sleep, Big Eyes and Still Alice. These are the personal bests that I’ll be happy to own in some high-def form (Bluray, Vudu HDX, whatever) and will be watching from time to time in years to come. It’s funny how the movies you’re supposed to like or are obliged to publicly support kind of fall away when you take yourself into a purist frame of mind. I’m not 100% locked into this order but it’s close to this:

Top Twelve: 1. Birdman (d: Alejandro G. Inarritu); 2. Citizen Four (d: Laura Poitras); 3. Leviathan (d: Andrey Zvyagintsev); 4. Gone Girl (d: David Fincher, who took a film with an airport-lounge plot and made it into something much more resonant); 5. Boyhood (d: Richard Linklater); 6. A Most Violent Year (d: J.C. Chandor); 7. Wild Tales (d: Damian Szifron); 8. A Most Wanted Man (d: Anton Corbijn); 9. The Babadook (d: Jennifer Kent); 10. Locke (d: Steven Knight); 11. Nightcrawler (d: Dan Gilroy); 12. The Drop (d: Michael R. Roskam).

Second-Tier Top Ten: 13. Whiplash (d: Damian Chazelle), 14. The Theory of Everything (d: James Marsh); 15. The Imitation Game (d: Morten Tyldum); 16. The Grand Budapest Hotel (d: Wes Anderson); 17. Selma (d: Ava DuVernay); 18. Last Days in Vietnam (d: Rory Kennedy); 19. Life Itself (d: Steve James); 20. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (d: Matt Reeves); 21. Red Army, (d: Gabe Polsky); 22. Foxcatcher (d: Bennett Miller)l 23. Edge of Tomorrow (d: Doug Liman). (more…)

Nichols Was The Man, Especially From ’66 Through ’75

Some are truly gifted, and if those in that small, choice fraternity are tenacious and lucky and sometimes scrappy enough, they get to develop their gift and turn what they have inside into works that matter for people of all stripes and philsophies. And then there are those gifted types who are fortunate enough to catch a certain inspiration at the right point in their lives, which turns into a wave that carries and defines their finest work for all time to come. This was how things pretty much went for the late and great Mike Nichols, who passed yesterday from a heart attack.

His film-directing career (which alternated from time to time with directing and producing hit Broadway plays), which was flourishy and satisfying and sometimes connected with the profound, lasted from the mid ’60s to mid aughts. Nichols had a touch and a style that everyone seemed to recognize, a certain mixture of sophisticated urban comedy and general gravitas. His first gusher was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff in 1966, and his last truly excellent film was HBO’s Angels in America. If you add Nichols’ brilliant early ’60s stand-up comedy period with Elaine May he really was Mr. King Shit for the better part of a half-century.

But Nichols’ most profound filmic output lasted for eight or nine years, or roughly ’66 through ’74 or ’75 — a chapter known for a certain stylistic signature mixed with an intense and somewhat tortured psychology that came from his European Jewish roots. Longtime Nichols collaborator Richard Sylbert, whom I knew fairly well from the late ’80s to the early aughts, explained it to me once. Nichols had developed that static, ultra-carefully composed, long-take visual approach that we saw in The Graduate, Catch 22, Carnal Knowledge, Day of the Dolphin and The Fortune, and this signature was, Sylbert believed, what elevated Nichols into the Movie God realm.

And then Nichols suffered a kind of crisis or collapse of the spirit after the double-flop of Dolphin and Fortune, and he withdrew from feature films for eight years, doing little or nothing for a certain period and then focusing on plays for the most part. He rebounded big-time with Silkwood in ’83, but the way he shot and paced that successful, well-reviewed drama showed that the great stylistic signature of his mid ’60s to mid ’70s films was no more. The ever-gifted Nichols never lost his sensitivity or refinement, but the anguished artist phase had ended. (more…)

Our Brand Is Conflict

A few weeks or months from now some seasoned journalist will write an absorbing, almost certainly colorful history of the Aaron Sorkin-scripted Steve Jobs project, which has not had a smooth ride so far. The latest development, reported by Deadline‘s Mike Fleming, is that Sony Pictures has decided against distributing — why? — and that Universal has all but snapped it up. This following the abrupt abandonment of the Jobs role by Christian Bale, and before that David Fincher leaving the project over a pay dispute. Based on the Walter Isaacson biography of the Apple founder, the film will be directed by Danny Boyle with Michael Fassbender reportedly a possible candidate to fill Bale’s slot. (He doesn’t seem like the right guy to me — wrong physical look — Bale would have been perfect.) The film is being produced by Scott Rudin, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon and Guymon Casady.

Citizenfour as Best Pic Contender?

Earlier today Variety‘s Brent Lang suggested that Laura PoitrasCitizenfour, easily the year’s best feature-length documentary, deserves a Best Picture nomination. Lang is apparently concerned that the Academy’s documentary branch might be too contrarian or mule-headed to nominate it or that the general Academy membership, which prefers to vote for docs that make them feel emotionally nourished, might regard Citizenfour as too controversial or something. This despite the International Documentary Association (IDA), a pretty good indicator of Academy sentiments about documentaries, having last month nominated Citizenfour for Best Feature Doc.


Bob & Woody

I’ve always loved this old SCTV skit about longtime Bob Hope worshipper Woody Allen attempting to collaborate with his idol. Until today I never knew that the phrase “aging Pentagon clown,” a Hope description that I first heard back in the early ’70s, came from a Russian journalist. Ten or twelve years ago Albert Brooks delivered an entertaining speech to some industry gathering of some kind (I seem to recall it occuring in Santa Monica) and I somehow got hold of an audio tape of Brooks’ remarks, and I transcribed a portion of them. And one of the stand-out portions, for me, was when he talked about watching Bob Hope on TV as a kid in the 1950s, and how his father would get really excited when an upcoming Hope appearance loomed, but when Hope did his act “you never laughed,” Brooks recalled. I posted a transcript of Brooks remarks about Hope and the absence of seatbelts in 1950s cars, and a couple of days later Howard Stern read from the Hope stuff on his show. (This was at least a couple of years before he started with SiriusXM.) Note to Brooks if he’s reading this: Any chance you have a recording of this speech lying around, and could I persuade you to share it?


Successful, Skin-Deep Songwriter Seeks Depth & Redemption

In Dan Fogelman‘s Danny Collins (3.20.15), Al Pacino plays a successful but creatively frustrated songwriter who apparently decides to churn out deeper, more personal songs after learning that John Lennon wrote him a fan letter in 1971. That’s 43 years ago. Pacino’s titular character couldn’t get his more soulful mojo going on his own? Got to strike your own match. On top of which Pacino/Collins thinking he might have developed his artistic potential if only he’d read Lennon’s letter in ’71…? Forget it. And not getting around to this until his 70s? Pacino/Collins is also hoping to rekindle his relationship with a son (Bobby Cannavale) and perhaps bask in a little forgiveness for being a selfish shit, but of course that doesn’t come easy. I think we’ve seen this story a few dozen times. The only “formerly selfish old guy looking for forgiveness and redemption from his kids” movie I’ve ever half-liked was Wes Anderson‘s The Royal Tennenbaums. Oh, and I can’t roll with the name Danny. I have this very stubborn, deep-rooted resistance to it, as I explained five and a half years ago.


I was roaming around a Macy’s on Tuesday night. The combination of the treacly, mildly sickening Christmas carols playing on the sound system (my feelings about “Jingle Bells” are best not expressed) plus coming upon a row of gold-toe socks in various designs and colors…wow. Just a passing moment but I fell into a dark place, especially as I thought about the general holiday thing. I like the jingle vibe as much as the next guy, but I always feel relieved on January 2nd. I began to feel this distance when I was in my 20s. It went away when the kids came along, especially during their toddler years, but then it came back. And that’s fine.

The happiest Christmas moment of my adult life was at a party at Robert Towne‘s home in mid-November of 1997. Towne had hired three professional singers to roam around his large Pacific Palisades abode and sing Christmas carols in perfect harmony, all dressed in Dickensian garb such as top hats, shawls, bonnets, gloves and hoop skirts. Towne’s home smelled of cinnamon, turkey, cigar smoke, turkey gravy, stuffing, egg nog….glorious. Curtis Hanson was there; ditto Jerry Bruckheimer. Everyone was buzzing about Hanson’s L.A. Confidential and what seemed like a good chance of it winning the Best Picture Oscar. And then some guy told Hanson he’d just seen Titanic. “It really works,” the guy said, and I think on some level (and I felt badly about this) Hanson knew. An inkling of what was to come. The dashing of his dream. And if he didn’t sense it, I sure did.