Carefully Chosen Words

Slate‘s Amanda Hess has posted an article about what Cate Blanchett should say (or not say) when she wins the Best Actress Oscar Sunday night. Hess suggests that Blanchett might be damned if she thanks director-writer Woody Allen and damned if she doesn’t. I’ll tell you what won’t work, and that’s what Blanchett said when she collected her Outstanding Performer of the Year award at the Santa Barbara Int’l Film Festival. She confined herself at that moment to thanking her Blue Jasmine costars, almost certainly because Blanchett and her publicist had calculated that mentioning Allen that night (only hours after Dylan Farrow’s letter had appeared in Nicholas Kristof‘s N.Y. Times column) would be unwise. It would obviously be ungracious to not mention Allen tomorrow night. On top of which the Dylan-Mia-Ronan brouhaha has been losing steam for two or three weeks now. (It peaked when Allen responded to the charges in a N.Y. Times-published letter.) Blanchett’s Oscar is about what she did with an Allen-created character. It’s finally about her craft but on the other hand she can’t imply that her performance just happened on its own.

Can’t Buy Coolness

A wealthy friend recently asked me to try to help her score tickets to the Oscars and to the Vanity Fair after-party. I asked around and quickly learned it’s a dicey thing to even ask about. Nobody wants to go there. It’s obviously declasse to attempt to buy tickets to events that are for invitees only. I was about to give up and tell my friend “sorry”, but then I checked Craigslist. I found a guy who claimed to be selling legitimate tickets to the Oscars for $38K a pop and to the Vanity Fair after-party for $40K each. I was astonished at these prices (don’t the Oscar security guys require ID?), and so was my friend. She backed off. The Craigslist scalper called this morning and confirmed the above prices. I don’t know if he’s actually in a position to deliver legitimate tickets or not, but he claimed there are buyers out there who would pay such amounts. He also claimed there are three or four brokers besides himself who are selling tickets to these events at similar prices.

Final Reckoning

Best Picture: It pains me to predict this but Gravity will probably win, despite the lame-ness and the wrongness of such a choice. Should win: Wolf of Wall Street or 12 Years a Slave. I know I’ve predicted 12 Years to win but…I don’t know what’s going to happen. But a gut feeling is telling me to prepare for the worst.

Best Director: Like everyone else, I’m expecting Alfonso Cuaron to come out on top. Not for directing one of the boldest and finest films of the 21st Century, Children of Men, but for directing a technically dazzling “Sandra Bullock in a haunted house but the haunted house is space” movie. Should win: Martin Scorsese for Wolf or Steve McQueen for Slave.

Best Actor: Dallas Buyers Club‘s Matthew McConaughey, of course, but Leonardo DiCaprio‘s balls-out performance in The Wolf of Wall Street is more deserving.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, of course, for her work in Blue Jasmine. Should win save for the fact that she wasn’t nominated: Blue is The Warmest Color‘s Adele Exarchopoulos.

Best Supporting Actor: Dallas Buyers Club‘s Jared Leto, although there’s no question in my mind that WoWS‘s Jonah Hill gave the richer and more vivid performance.

Best Supporting Actress: The most deserving nominee is 12 Years A Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o but I fear that American Hustle‘s Jennifer Lawrence will take it nonetheless. The Academy that gave Christoph Waltz two Oscars for playing more or less the same kind of character twice in two Quentin Tarantino movies is more than capable of blowing off Nyong’o. (more…)

“Who’s Running This Outfit?”

I was 14 or 15 when I first saw Howard HawksOnly Angels Have Wings (’39). I liked it right away. I’ve probably seen it ten or fifteen times since. And the older I get the better this film seems. I think it’s because the classic themes — the Hawksian code of professionalism, “Who’s Joe?”, “He just wasn’t good enough” — mean more now that I’ve learned first-hand what “good enough” and “not good enough” are. I’ve been up and down and through it all. I’ve been used, pursued, abused, subdued, sued and tattoed. I’ve climbed rocky cliffs at night in the rain and have passed muster. Now I know what the movie is really saying.

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Latest 2014 Assessment

I’m so sick of the Oscar race (and particularly of reading Oscar nominee suck-up pieces on Hitfix.com) that I’m not even going to post the winners in the Oscar Balloon, as I’ve done in the past. I’ll just post them as a story and that’ll be that. Instead I’ll be re-posting HE’s Projected/Likely 2014 Highlights roster. Before it goes up I’m asking once again for additions and suggestions. Which films belong under the Presumed High-Pedigree, Respectable Second Tier and Third-Tier Megaplex categories? I’ve obviously made my determinations but maybe I’ve got a few wrong.

Presumed High-Pedigree: Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s Birdman, Ridley Scott‘s Exodus, Bennett Miller‘s Foxcatcher, David Fincher‘s Gone Girl, Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar, J.C. Chandor‘s A Very Violent Year, Jean Marc Vallee‘s Wild (i.e., the Reese Witherspoon hiking drama), Noah Baumbach‘s While We’re Young, Terrence Malick‘s Knight of Cups (or the other “intersecting love triangles” Austin-based film that still doesn’t have a title…or both), Matt ReevesDawn of the Planet of the Apes, Jeff NicholsMidnight Special, Tim Burton‘s Big Eyes, Noah Baumbach‘s Untitled Public School Project, Phillip Noyce‘s The Giver, Mike Leigh‘s Mr. Turner, Todd HaynesCarol, Justin Kurzel‘s Macbeth, Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken. (20). (more…)

Sanity Under Review

I don’t know what Charlie Kaufman‘s Anomalisa will be about, but I’m presuming it’ll have something to do with Kaufmanland, which is to say glum, sardonic humor mixed with morose, middle-aged loneliness and ennui and being haunted by death and looking at pink piss in the toilet bowl, etc. Kaufman is one of our greatest, most original-thinking screenwriters (I will worship Being John Malkovich and Adaptation for the rest of my life) but as a director he seems to have a strange longing for obscurity if not self-obliteration. How else would you describe a guy who titles his films Synecdoche and Anomalisa? Rule #1 in deciding on a movie title is “make it easy to remember.” Rule #2 is “don’t choose a one-word, five-syllable title that nobody on the planet earth has ever heard before…that doesn’t exist in Webster’s dictionary.” I’m posting this out of genuine concern.

Walter Hill’s 48 Hours

No more Hollywood Elsewhere Oscar Ballot submissions after midnight tomorrow night so this it — fill out your ballot today or tomorrow. Drop-down menu, check predictions, send it in. The highest-scoring balloter can, if he/she chooses, sit for an interview/lunch with yours truly, or I’ll just fork over $125 or so…whatever works. Honest admission: Right now I don’t know how to determine winners except by manually reading the hundreds of submissions. I’ve been told there’s a nice easy way to determine accuracy with software, but I can be a little slow with this stuff. So please keep tabs and let me know if you ended up with an exceptionally high score. (Explanation: I know Hill’s film was actually titled 48 HRS. but I always hated that awful abbreviation gimmick — stank of odious hucksterism.)

Best Actress of the Year

Early last fall certain award-season pundits began to elbow aside Blue Is The Warmest Color‘s Adele Exarchopoulos as a Best Actress contender. Not because her performance isn’t wonderfully skillful and alive, but because award-season hoopla is almost always about celebrating familiar brand-name actresses who are already in the game and have established p.r. veterans orchestrating their interviews and whatnot. Exarchopoulos was deep-sixed for not being famous enough and because IFC Films/Sundance Selects didn’t have a big enough bankroll behind her campaign. Cate Blanchett has the Best Actress Oscar in the bag, but her Blue Jasmine performance seems narrow and shrill and “theatrical” when you compare it to Adele’s au natural-ism, her breathtakingly open and vulnerable and aching…I don’t know what to call it but it was more than just a “performance,” and it damn well should have been a knockout punch. It certainly was for me.

Never-Ending Story

It’s time once again to ask the Universal Home Video guys why we still can’t buy, rent or stream Frank Perry, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne‘s Play It As It Lays (’72). Every two or three years I re-post an article that I wrote in 2003 about its absence. It played years ago on the Sundance Channel but right now it’s not on Amazon, Hulu, Vudu or Netflix The last I checked Universal had the home video rights, and as far as I know the ball is still in their court. How many years or decades is this negligence going to continue?

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The Way It Is

A half-hour ago Sao Paolo entertainment journalist Guilherme Genestreti asked me the following question: “The 2014 Academy Awards seem to be the most disputed in the decade if we consider that five of the nine best Picture nominees have been awarded by the guilds (SAG, DGA, PGA, WGA). In your opinion, why is there a lack of a clear consensus for a Best Picture winner this year?”

My answer: “There was only one grandslam, socially-reflective auteurist super-flick that will be watched and pondered decades hence, and which clearly deserves to win the Best Picture Oscar, and that’s The Wolf of Wall Street. But the old, calcified and conservative Academy membership is too smug and reactionary to get this. They basically like to give awards to movies that make them feel emotionally comforted and which validate their own feelings of self-worth (like Crash) or echo their core emotional feelings, and no Best Picture nominee has movie has really done that this year. (more…)

Tough Tits

Sasha Stone slapped me around yesterday for not posting that Lee and Low chart showing the lack of diversity among members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I just figured it was old news that the Academy membership is primarily old (or oldish), white, clubby and liver-spotted. Two years ago an L.A.Times survey reported by John Horn, Nicole Sperling and Doug Smith informed that Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, have a median age of 62.

Here’s the real problem, as the Times survey informed: “People younger than 50 constitute just 14% of [AMPAS] membership.” The over-50s run the show, I realize, but the under-50s should constitute at least 1/3 of the membership, if not a greater percentage.

I also feel it’s not necessarily a profound loss to world culture that, as the chart states, “over the last 10 years no winners of acting Oscar have been of Latino, Asian or Native American descent.” To that I say, “Really? Well, keep trying!” Honestly…why should I give a damn if a politically correct Utopian vision of demographic equality hasn’t been reflected by acting Oscar winners since 2004? It’s a Darwinian world out there, my friends. Scramble or be scrambled upon. Dog eat dog. Dog doesn’t return the other dog’s phone calls. (more…)

The Sum Of All Intelligence

Three days ago a “tribute statue” of the late Steve Jobs, designed by Serbian sculptor Dragan Radenovic, was unveiled in Belgrade. [Photo after the jump.] It’s basically Jobs’ head on a four-sided pole with Cyrillic letters and a “1” and a “0” sticking out. It immediately reminded me of that green-head-in-a-fishbowl alien in William Cameron MenziesInvaders From Mars (’53). The face of this Mediterranean-looking guy with the big brain helmet and the serpent tentacles (and no arms or legs or trunk) is one of the creepiest images the movies have ever delivered. Mr. Fishbowl, a kind of Einstein general behind the Martian invasion, was described in Act Three as “the sum of all intelligence.” He conveyed his orders to the Martian mutants by moving his crab pincers.

This isn’t the first time that memories of the fish-bowl guy have been stirred.

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Dumb-Down Pills

In my realm the basic Oscar oppression is that Academy members always vote from a lazy and complacent place. They’re too old and smug and soft-minded to search for and identify and support the best films. They prefer comfort to envelope-pushing or greatness. But in Marshall Fine’s view, this is nothing compared to the much bigger sensibility gap between those of us who follow the Oscar race and average ticket buyers who don’t give a rat’s ass, and the fact that the economic benefits of being nominated or winning are in flux as we speak.

There’s always been a huge aesthetic gap between Serious Film Catholics and casual ticket buyers. The former tend to view Average Joes as not just “easy lays” whose tastes are stubbornly unsophisticated, but in some ways committed to being “stupid and ineducable,” to quote from “The Film Snob’s Dictionary.”

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What Did Cuaron Pocket?

“Multiple sources” have told The Hollywood Reporter‘s Stephen Galloway that Sandra Bullock‘s Gravity compensation will be at least $70 million “when all revenue streams are factored in,” the story says. “Bullock’s deal with Warner Bros. for the Alfonso Cuaron-directed space epic calls for her to earn $20 million against 15 percent of first-dollar gross. That means once her advance is covered, she will collect 15 percent of the studio’s slice of the [rental] pie.”

Soderbergh’s Psychos

For some arcane reason Steven Soderbergh has created a mash-up of Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho (’60) and Gus Van Sant‘s color Psycho remake (’98). I guess you could call this an interesting experiment. I never much liked the Van Sant because he didn’t really remake the Hitchcock classic frame-for-frame — he fiddled with the particulars. “Lowery? I am dying of thirstaroonie.”

Again, the URL.

Charging Admission for “Pink” Print

Last night Gavin Smith‘s Film Comment Selects series screened a double-header under the title “Healthcare Mayhem” — Blake Edwards‘ mediocre The Carey Treatment (’72), a Boston-set James Coburn drama that no one ever has to see or contemplate ever again, and a “pink” print of Paddy Chayefsky‘s (and Arthur Hiller‘s) The Hospital (’71). Smith is coping with personality issues that prevent him from communicating like an adult, but I’m told that both 35mm prints were supplied by Quentin Tarantino.

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Materials Requested

After being indifferent for the longest time I’m now looking to drown myself in Martin Luther King scripts. Ava Duvernay‘s rewrite of Selma that Oprah Winfrey will be producing for Paramount. The Oliver Stone-authored revision of a King biopic (i.e, the one with Jamie Foxx attached) that was turned down by DreamWorks and Warner Bros. because it was too candid or revealing about King’s private life. And Paul Greengrass‘s Memphis project (i.e., the last days of MLK before his assassination that was on and off and then on and then off). I’ll even settle for an e-mail or call from someone who’s either read all the versions or has at least read coverage of same. I’ve heard all along that the Greengrass script is the best of them, but I’d like to dig in a bit and learn a bit more.

Floating Zoos

Darren Aronofsky had no choice when he set about designing Noah’s Ark for Noah (Paramount, 3.28). It couldn’t even vaguely resemble that perfectly designed, tanker-sized wooden vessel that Steve Carell built in Tom Shadyac‘s Evan Almighty (’07). And, of course, it had to look like something that could have actually been built by Average Joes in ancient times, and not something built by professional 21st Century shipbuilders in Nova Scotia, which is what the Evan Ark resembled. But Aronofsky’s Ark doesn’t look at all like something built to float. It looks like some kind of primitive warehouse or fortress. Men have known about the principles of ship-building since the dawn of the oldest civilization, and principle #1 was that all ships need a rounded bottom of some kind. So what is this?


Ark in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (Paramount, 3.28).

Ark in Tom Shadyac’s Evan Almighty (’07).

Another Survival Saga

I’m not a big fan of true-life tales of characters surviving painful, ghastly ordeals. You know going in they’re going to make it through or why else would a movie have been made? So you pay your $14 bucks, you sit down and you’re stuck with the main character, suffering through this and that, nearly starving or being tortured or whatever agonies he/she endured. We can presume that the message of Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken (which Universal is releasing next Christmas) is that you can’t give up, you have to survive, tenacity is everything, etc. Yeah, that’s true. But why do I have to experience Louis Zamperini’s World War II ordeal? What’s in it for me?