Paris is the only place in the world to welcome in the new year. The kids and I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower exactly ten years ago tonight, and I would do it again. This isn’t the greatest New Year’s video I’ve ever seen, but it ends with the best upward-pan spectacle shot I’ve ever seen on YouTube. Taken only seven or eight hours ago.
The Obama family saw Avatar in Hawaii this morning — alone. The story doesn’t say if they saw it in 2D, RealD, Fake IMAX digital 3D or real IMAX celluloid 3D. Why didn’t they watch it with a paying crowd? You’re missing something if you see a film like Avatar in a vacuum. Or are you?
When someone writes the obit for Variety critic Derek Elley (not for many decades!), it’s likely he/she will feel obliged to mention the biggest wrongo of Elley’s career — his September 2008 pan of The Hurt Locker at the Venice Film Festival. There’s no right or wrong view of any film, of course, but Elley’s view is so drastically divorced from the opinion of 98% of the critics who’ve written about it since that you have to wonder, as I did in my 2008 Toronto review, what Elley saw over there.
You can slam any film you want for any reason, but if it’s doing something well you have to at least acknowledge this. If it seems to be touching a nerve or connecting in some efficient way you have to at least be fair and say, “It knows what it’s doing.”
What are the other notorious missed-the-basic-value reviews? David Poland‘s “hold up there, cowboy!” pan of Brokeback Mountain from the Telluride Film festival, surely. My thumbs-up reaction to Tim Burton‘s Planet of the Apes was a miss-in-reverse. Todd McCarthy‘s Sundance Film Festival pan of The Big Lebowski lives in the annals. Bosley Crowther‘s trashing of Dr. Strangelove in early ’64, and his praise of Cleopatra the year before.
At the end of his best-of-aughts piece (in which he names Charlie Kaufman ‘s Synecdoche as the best of the bunch!), Roger Ebert finishes with a thought that I’ve conveyed several times myself. Actually thousands of times, in a sense.
“All of these films are on this list for the same reason — the direct emotional impact they made on me,” he explains. “They have many other qualities, of course. But these evoked the emotion of Elevation, which I wrote about a year or so ago. Elevation is, scientists say, is an actual emotion, not a woo-woo theory. I believe that, because some films over the years have evoked from me a physical as well as an intellectual or emotional response.
“In choosing the list, I decided to bypass films that may have qualified for their historical, artistic, popular or ‘objective” importance. No lists have deep significance, but even less lists composed to satisfy an imaginary jury of fellow critics. My jury resides within. I know how I feel.
“Almost the first day I started writing reviews, I found a sentence in a book by Robert Warshow that I pinned on the wall above my desk. I have quoted it so frequently that some readers must be weary of it, but it helps me stay grounded.
“It says that while ‘a man goes to the movies, a critic must be honest enough to admit that he is that man.’
“That doesn’t make one person right and another wrong. All it means is that you know how they really felt, not how they thought they should feel.”
Here’s my initial reaction Synecdoche, by the way — eighteen months ago, feels like a lot more.
There seems to be a growing consensus that you can’t say “two thousand-something” any more — you have to say “twenty-ten” or whatever. This has been the only century since the acceptance of the Gregorian or Roman calendars in which English-speaking people have referred to a year by saying the word “thousand.” This has mainly been due, I suspect, to the grammatical influence of Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve been a twenty-something advocate since ’01, to no avail.
I’ve been feeling more and more persuaded over the last couple of weeks that Zoe Saldana deserves a Best Actress nomination for her motion-capture performance as Neytiri in Avatar. In the manner of a silent-film actress Saldana’s emoting is necessarily broad, and I understand the uninformed suspicion that it’s not she who deserves the credit as much as the motion-capture tweaks that fine-tuned her performance, but my heart knows what it feels. Saldana got me.
Don’t even mention Meryl Streep‘s Dan Aykroyd-y performance in Julie & Julia alongside Saldana’s. When I think of Avatar I think first of the 3D-eyeball-sex aspect, and then the final embrace moment between big Neytiri and Sam Worthington‘s little Jake. That was a huge sink-in for me. I was responding to a woman — her bravery, conviction — and not a technology. I felt her character and emotionality as fully as Carey Mulligan‘s in An Education.
I regret to say that apart from the motion-capture suspicion there’s a slight downside afflicting Saldana’s chances. I don’t mean to sound like a snob, but she doesn’t speak like a cultured actress or, to be completely frank, a woman of great character or feeling in the interviews that she’s done to support the film. She’s a New Jersey neighborhood girl who lived for several years in the Dominican Republic, and she seems to “talk the walk” in this respect. And that argues with what I want from an Oscar-calibre actress. Neytiri has “it”; Saldana not so much.
I watch and listen to Saldana, and I don’t think RADA or Stella Adler or HB Studios. Or a higher education of any kind. Or some kind of up-from-the-streets Edith Piaf kapow factor. I’m trying to fight my way past this, but I felt more enthusiasm for her Avatar performance before seeing her on “Late Night with David Letterman” than after.
And yet MCN’s David Poland is dead-on when he says the following:
“I have been struck by how many people, Academy members included, have remarked on the emotional weight of Saldana’s performance holding [Avatar] together. She is both very physical and very raw emotionally… something we have not really seen since Ms. Weaver in Mr. Cameron’s Aliens.
“There is a lot of education to be done here. My interviews with Cameron and WETA’s Joe Letteri took me through both the intent of the filmmakers and how this first-time ever process truly allowed the actors to do all of their traditional acting work, even as they were computerized.
“But the bottom line is, this is a strong piece of acting. It is a full-out performance. And by the middle of the film, you believe in who Naytiri is, above and beyond being 10 feet tall, blue, and nearly naked. This is a testament to Zoe Saldana’s work. She deserves serious consideration for a nomination, as any other actress who had given a performance like this would.”
Pete Hammond says the following: “The reason Saldana will not get an acting nom is that the whole area of performance-capture is a very controversial one for actors. SAG even has a committee devoted to exploring the negative aspects of it and what it eventually will mean for actors.”
I’d like to add 50% agreement to a recent AOL Moviefone poll verdict, which is that Megan Fox was the worst and the sexiest actress of 2009. I concur with the “worst” part because no other actor in an ’09 film seemed quite as falsely mannered to me — as devoid of anything recognizably human. There’s nothing behind her eyes. She really does seem to exude the personality, attitude and talent level of a porn star.
I’m talking mainly about her acting in Jennifer’s Body, of course. You can’t judge anyone by their performance in either of the Transformers films.
The dead-eye factor is also why I don’t find Fox sexy. So many under-25 guys fail to realize that looks are only a third of the package. (And less when you’re talking about Fox’s porn-star package.) No woman can be called genuinely sexy unless they have a quality about them that suggests (a) they’re emotionally approachable and (b) they’d be breathtaking in bed if and when you scored. Fox doesn’t seem approachable to anyone except for guys offering this or that material or portfolio enhancement, and you can’t believe porn stars during sex — it’s all terrible “acting.”
I guy I knew in college said something really eloquent once about a girl he’d recently met: “The sex was so good, I cried.” That would never occur if you happened to get lucky with Megan Fox.
Jett, who tunes out on certain subjects every so often, just asked who the likely Best Supporting Actor winner will be, and when I said “Christoph Waltz, the milk-sipping Nazi Colonel from Inglourious Basterds,” he said “what?” He’s seen Quentin Tarantino‘s film and was okay with it, but the Waltz certainty shocked him. Write a fast piece about why you just said that, I suggested. He’s not responding so I guess not.
This was a banner year of Stephen Lang in Public Enemies and Avatar — why isn’t he in the loop? Peter Capaldi‘s potty mouthed rage-hound performance in In The Loop made him a major indie star. Alfred Molina‘s awkward English dad was wonderfully bent and vulnerable in An Education, and Peter Sarsgaard was curiously sly and winning as Carey Mulligan‘s odd-duck older boyfriend. Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty shone brightly in The Hurt Locker. Christian McKay in Orson Welles and Me! And James Gandolfini‘s In The Loop general turned me around like few smallish comic performances have this year. (Between this and Gandolfini’s comic vulgarian in God of Carnage, who knew?)
Why does it have to be Waltz, Waltz, Waltz and nothing but?
“While there is violence galore in Ian Fitzgibbon‘s A Film With Me in It, the lion’s share is accidental,” writes critic Marshall Fine. “That’s the joke in this blackly humorous Irish film. People drop dead at an alarming rate in this movie, and the deaths are unbelievably accidental — and are certain to seem so to the authorities.
Doherty or Moran? You decide.
“Unemployed actor Mark (Mark Doherty) and his would-be writer-filmmaker friend Pierce (stand-up comic Dylan Moran) are ne’er-do-wells, renting flats in the same building from the same gruff landlord (Keith Allen), who is badgering them for their respective rents. Mark has spent the rent on other bills – like heat for the flat and gas for the car – but he hasn’t told his girlfriend Sally (Amy Huberman), with whom he lives, along with his paralyzed brother Dave (David O’Doherty).
“As Mark tries to figure out how to keep from being evicted, he suffers a mini-plague of accidents within his ramshackle apartment. Let’s just say the apartment’s rattletrap fixtures and shaky furniture claim a series of victims in record time, forcing Mark and Pierce to figure out how to dispose of the various corpses without landing in jail for something they didn’t do.
“There’s a wonderful comic chemistry between the taciturn Doherty and the alternately blase and panicked Moran. Doherty seems mostly to be in shock, while Moran – as the would-be screenwriter – keeps trying to puzzle out the situation as though it were a movie he was watching.
“It’s a slight film but an explosively funny one. I happened to see it at the Toronto Film Festival in 2008 — and now it’s finally being released (who knows how briefly) at lower Manhattan’s IFC Center. It may roll out elsewhere – or turn up in some video-on-demand delivery system. By all means, make an effort to track it down. It will make you laugh – hard.”
Why don’t I believe Fine’s last sentence? If A Film With Me in It is that funny then why wasn’t it acquired for a bigger, broader release out of Toronto? And why didn’t the IFC people invite me to see it?
Orangutans have very expressive faces. Nothing startling in this. I first realized it when I was in third or fourth grade. I thought that Clyde, the orangutan who co-stared with Clint Eastwood in Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can , performed well, but I’d like to see someone try to direct an orangutan into a straight drama. “Without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own…”
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