Archive | January, 2013

Game Changers in the SAG Playbook?

27 Jan

Here without a lot of fuss are the winners of this evening’s Screen Actors Guild Awards in the motion picture categories:

  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role:  Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture: Argo (Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Rory Cochrane, Bryan Cranston, Christopher Denham, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber, John Goodman, Scott McNairy, and Chris Messina)
tlj as thad stevens

^ Tommy Lee Jones, as the wig-wearing Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln, was not present at the SAG awards, No reason was given though a number of celebs were reportedly absent due to the flu.

Is any of this a game changer in relation to the Oscars? I think there are some noteworthy developments. Even before Texas native Tommy Lee Jones won in his category I had begun to suspect he would emerge the frontrunner for the Oscar in the same field. The reason is hard to explain, exactly, but I think it comes down to which actor has the greatest likability factor; after all, we know that Jones, already an Oscar winner for 1993’s The Fugitive, is competing against four previous winners: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), and Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained). These are all talented guys; there is no question about that. Indeed, De Niro is already a two-time Oscar winner: (Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather Part II, 1974; Best Actor for Raging Bull, 1980).  The point is that for Academy members, a choice this maddeningly close among equals will likely come down to which man voters like best, and there can hardly be any doubt that people like Tommy Lee Jones. He’s solid. Oh sure, he has a reputation as something akin to an ornery old cuss—actually, he reportedly chooses his words wisely and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Yes, there’s that, but I also think that’s just part of his charm. Plus, his vehicle reeks of prestige. That’s something else worth considering though he’s at least matched in that regard by Arkin, whose Argo continues to generate positive vibes.

Affleck Argo Poster

^ How about that Argo? Not only did Ben Affleck’s film take the top SAG award–for ensemble acting–it also snared the Producers Guild of America award on Saturday night. History shows that movies without nominated directors rarely win Oscars for Best Picture. The last exception was 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy (directed by Bruce Beresford); that noted: the last five PGA champs have also gone on to the top Oscar–as did Driving Miss Daisy back in the day.  On the other hand, the SAG award for Best Cast does not always translate into a Best Picture victory on Oscar night though that’s often the perception. Still, such recent Oscar winners as No Country for Old Men (2007) Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and The King’s Speech (2010) picked up the big SAG prize enroute to the Academy ceremony.

I also think the tide might be turning in favor of Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence.  Silver Linings Playbook has not turned out to be a huge blockbuster or anything, which is not to say it won’t, but this …what? quirky?…domestic comedy-drama  represents “safe” middle-of-the-road filmmaking, and that might give Lawrence a leg-up on the competition, and by that I specifically mean Jessica Chastain, the star of the controversial Zero Dark Thirty.  Even though Chastain’s character, based on the real CIA agent who played a pivotal  role in the ultimately successful hunt for Osama bin Laden, actually stands for the spirit of America (or at least an audience surrogate) as she doggedly pursues the one promising lead in the case, her single-mindedness can be a bit off-putting as she teeters toward the brink. Simply, the case overwhelms her (naturally), and eventually takes over her life. It’s almost frightening. Actually, I love, love, love, Chastain’s fierce portrayal, but I’m not sure it has the same audience appeal as Lawrence’s performance–which carries shades of Renee Zellweger’s early pluckiness.  Plus, Chastain’s film just might be too controversial for its own good in the minds of many Academy members.

Of course, there are still a few things to remember. Yes, the actors branch of the Academy is its largest, and, yes, there is overlapping membership between the Academy and the Screen Actors Guild. As such, it’s hard not to think that the SAG awards offer some sort of crystal ball into Oscar outcome; however, the SAG voting body is much much larger, much more inclusive, than the Academy bunch. Plus, and this refers to the previous point, the final line-up in any of these SAG categories does not precisely mirror the rosters of the Academy’s equivalent categories, so there is still plenty of room for surprises–with the possible exception of Daniel Day Lewis whose lead in the Best Actor race seems so solid as to be insurmountable.

Dick Van Dyke

Thank you, Dick Van Dyke, for your many years of entertaining us in films (Bye Bye Birdie, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Comic, Divorce American Style, What a Way to Go, and Night at the Museum, among others) as well as your classic TV show, which still rates as my all-time favorite sitcom. Per the IMDb, he won three Emmy statuettes for playing TV writer Rob Petrie in the classic 1960s comedy. He also earned Emmy nominations for playing a struggling alcoholic in telefilm The Morning After and for a guest starring role in The Golden Girls. He reinvented himself as a small screen sleuth on Diagnosis Murder, which ran from 1993 to 2002, and he’s even made a new series of mysteries entitled Murder 101. He also reunited with his equally iconic sitcom wife Mary Tyler Moore (a 2012 SAG honoree) in the 2003 TV adaptation of The Gin Game. Oh yeah, look at him: he turned 87 late last year, and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Thanks, Dick.


Depicting versus Endorsing versus Censoring

25 Jan
^ This year's Best Actress lineup includes three previous nominees--in alphabetical order: Jessica Chastain (above), previously of 2011's The Help; Jennifer Lawrence, from 2010's Winter's Bone, and Naomi Watts, who was last in the running for 2003's 21 Grams.

What an incredible two years it has been for actress Jessica Chastain. In 2011, she appeared in seven feature films, including Ralph Fiennes’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, and two Best Picture nominees: The Tree of Life and The Help, earning a Best Supporting Actress nod for the later. Now, she’s the Oscar nominated star of another top awards contender and enjoying  box office success in two very different films.

Well, I guess congratulations are in order for Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain. This past weekend, she enjoyed the remarkable luck–some might say feat–of appearing in the two most popular movies in the country. In the number 1 spot was Mama, the latest ghoulish suspense film from producer Guillermo del Toro, whose previous credits include the Oscar winning Pan’s Labyrinth. The famously red-tressed Chastain is barely recognizable in the film with a short jet black do. The week’s #2 film, and the movie for which Chastain has earned her current–and second consecutive–Oscar nomination, is Zero Dark Thirty, Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s highly controversial depiction of the decade long hunt to track down terrorist Osama bin Laden, the architect of the 9/11 attacks on America.


^ The title refers to a half hour after midnight, othewise known as the zero hour.

Depending on one’s point of view, Zero Dark Thirty has generated all kinds of wild opinions due to its depiction of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” also known as torture, specifically the practice known as “waterboarding,” as CIA specialists try to crack the reserve of suspected terrorist grunts in the Al-Qaeda network.  Simply, those who oppose this movie, and I bet more than a few of them have not actually seen it (based on my experiences of movie controversies of the past), argue that the depiction of torture is 100 % false and that it goes against U.S. policy; others believe that it isn’t the mere depiction of horror that creates a problem but rather that the film apparently endorses torture by portraying it as a most successful means to an end, a point which many skeptics, including  a few high profile Washington insiders, believe goes against the timeline of the actual post 9/11 events as they have been officially reported. Now, suddenly, there’s a call for an investigation. Well placed politicos want to know who among the ranks of intelligence specialists spilled the beans about all this to Bigelow and writer Mark Boal (a previous Oscar winner for The Hurt Locker and also a current Oscar nominee).  Who knows if this uproar was a contributing factor in Bigelow’s snub in the Best Director category?  Sexism could have also played a role. The truth is that it was probably a little bit, make that a lot,  of both.

For her part, Bigelow, who identifies as a pacifist, claims that there is a difference between “depicting” torture, especially if it actually happened, and “endorsing” it.  Furthermore, Bigelow reminds the naysayers that her film is not a documentary, but rather a feature film based on facts, which allows for a certain amount of dramatic license. That noted, Mark Boal stands by his research. Though he is reluctant to divulge too much about that research to the press, he has at least stressed that he spoke with individuals who were close to the case at the time. What is known is that “Maya,” the character portrayed by Chastain, is based on a real person though even the details of that are being kept, well, sketchy.

Okay, here is what I know. First, I minored in Human Rights Education at the prestigious private university from which I graduated just over three years ago; I do not condone torture, nor do I believe that Zero Dark Thirty condones it. I think it is incredibly silly for anyone to deny that the then administration–those in political power at the time of the 9/11 attacks–was somehow above using torture in order to get to Osama bin Laden. I don’t have to call out anybody by name  in this matter because we all know who publicly asserted that: “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” He also stated that the demands for surrender of terrorists were “not open to discussion.” He further said that those who would not “hand over” terrorists would share in those same terrorists’ fate.  That sounds pretty definitive to me, and though he did not mention torture specifically in his post-9/11 speech, he clearly  said that “every tool of intelligence” and  “every necessary weapon of war” would be waged in the war on terrorism, turning one terrorist against another–“until there is no rest”– in the process. We would not be stopped. I could go on all day, and I’m not knocking the former prez necessarily because I think he spoke for the vast majority of American during the darkest days after the attacks. As such, I find the naivete of some of these now interested parties pretty well inexplicable. I remember only  few years ago when the debate was not whether the U.S. engaged in waterboarding but whether waterboarding should actually be defined as torture in the first place. Furthermore, what about all those photos from Abu Ghraib? Really? Didn’t they look just a little like torture?

On the other hand, after reading the incredible book, Unspeakable Acts, Everyday People by John Conroy, I do believe that, well, there is every reason to believe that there are other–more humane, more successful–ways of obtaining information than through torturous acts. I think the evidence about that speaks for itself, yet even knowing that, I would be reluctant to make the claim that torture NEVER works.  Even so, and here’s a spoiler or two–well, we already know how the movie ends anyway, right?–to me, Zero Dark Thirty clearly shows that torture is not the only means of interrogation that works. I think that much is obvious. In one scene, Maya applies a little kindness to a prisoner who has been brutalized, and she (Maya) gets a tiny yet crucial piece of information to help build her case.  Does she coarsen and become a bit more receptive to the idea of torture later in the hunt? Yes. At the same time, another sequence more than adequately demonstrates that there are far greater tools of persuasion than physical abuse. I won’t give away too much, but it involves bartering on a grand scale.

David Clennon

^ Actor-activist David Clennon: Torture, bad; censorship, good.

Interestingly, actor David Clennon, perhaps best known for his Emmy nominated role as “Miles Drentell” on thirtysomething back in the day–and more recently seen in the movie J. Edgar and TV shows NCIS and Weeds (among several others)–wrote an op-ed piece for in which he explained why he would not be voting for Zero Dark Thirty for Best Picture–nor anyone else associated with the film. Whoah! Clennon believes, as do many other concerned parties, that Zero Dark Thirty endorses torture–and that a vote for anyone involved with the film is likewise a vote for torture. How do I even begin to process this? First of all,  I guess I’m a little shocked to find out that Clennon is actually a member of the Academy. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I think he’s a wonderful actor, but it seems to me that his greatest impact has been on TV rather than in the movies. I did not realize how well connected he was since membership into the Academy is only by invitation. Additionally, the Academy’s policy is to NOT speak about the voting process to the press. It’s quite one thing to for nominees to promote themselves, or for industry insiders to express delight over a particular film and/or performance, but it’s something entirely different to publicly campaign against a given film or a performance. If a member doesn’t like something for one reason or another, s/he should just vote for something else and be done with it. Finally, I think Clennon sometimes misses the point.  He argues that Maya is only able to get what she does get from one prisoner because he is afraid he will be tortured some more. Yes, I can see that, but I also see that by exhibiting a little kindness, Maya is getting results in a way that her fellow agent failed to do. Clennon also gripes that the filmmakers show more compassion for Maya than they do for the people who are tortured.  Sure, I’ll agree with that to an extent, but I also think that since the saga is seen through Maya’s eyes, it would be difficult to tell the story in any other way. She’s the conduit, the audience’s “in” to the rest of the narrative. Besides, Clennon has never served in the military, and I’m not judging him because of it, but his viewpoint is shaped by his experience and is not likely to be the same as someone who has seen and/or lived the events depicted in the film from a much more informed perspective–as in the review I have linked to at the bottom of this page.

Also, David Clennon, where does this end?  He clearly states in the article why he will not be voting for Chastain even though he describes her performance thusly:  ” With her beauty and her tough-but-vulnerable posturing, she almost succeeds in making extreme brutality look weirdly heroic.” Okay, Clennon. Also, I get that Oscar voters are just people–flawed and what not–and that they bring a whole variety of variables and prejudices with them when they go to mark their ballots–as we all do whenever we cast a vote. For example, I once met a woman who was adamant that even though she kind of liked John Kerry, she would not vote for him for president because she didn’t care too much for his wife. Why should Clennon be any different? Still, I feel compelled to remind Clennon and anyone else that it is the performance, not the individual, that is actually being recognized. Easier said than done, I know, but where does it end? For example…

  • Jennifer Lawrence, one of Chastain’s fellow Best Actress nominees, is officially in the race for Silver Linings Playbook, but everybody knows that Lawrence also starred in the 2012 blockbuster The Hunger Games, a dystopian epic which surely enough presents teens killing other teens as televised entertainment–and the movie makes it easy for audiences to root for Lawrence’s character since she is somehow inherently “good” while other children in the competition are presented as “evil”–and therefore deserving of death–even though they are all chosen randomly by the totalitarian government and are merely fighting for their lives–just like Lawrence’s “Katniss Everdeen.” If Clennon votes for her, will he feel a pang of regret about that? Isn’t Lawrence endorsing mindless violence just by being associated with that film even though it’s not the film for which she is officially nominated? Doesn’t that make Clennon guilty too if he votes for her?
  • Look at Naomi Watts, a nominee for The Impossible. Her film suggests that the suffering of brown skinned Asian natives in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is somehow not as compelling as the suffering of white European tourists on holiday who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Worse, the  filmmakers have whitewashed the very identity of the real-life woman Watts portrays in this true story since the actual woman is Spanish with dark hair and dark eyes in contrast to blonde haired, blue-eyed Watts. If Clennon votes for Watts, is he condoning racism, white privilege, and, again, rewriting or whitewashing history for the sake of entertainment and commercial marketability? Shame on him!
  • And what about little Quvenzhané Wallis of Beasts of the Southern Wild? How can a 9 year old nominee, the youngest ever in the Best Actress category, carry any whiff of wrongdoing? Well, let me tell you something. It’s no secret that Wallis was only five years old when she auditioned for the leading role of “Hushpuppy” in Beasts of the Southern Wild, yet it’s also no secret that she lied about her age at the time. Per child labor laws, the producers were looking for actresses who were at least six years old. If Clennon votes for her, is he making a statement that it’s okay to lie in order to get what you want? Also, should Wallis’s mother be held accountable since she was neglectful in her duties as a parent when she agreed to the charade and effectively snubbed her nose at the law? Or does the end justify the means?
  • I haven’t seen Emmanuelle Riva in Amour just yet, but I do know she once starred in a movie entitled Hiroshima, Mon Amour, and, well, we all know what the Americans did to the Japanese at Hiroshima during World War II, so Riva better hope Clennon has a short memory.

Am I being ridiculous? You betcha, and I think Clennon is being ridiculous too. At the very least, he isn’t helping. Oh sure, we have freedom of the press (Yay!), and Clennon is equally free to vote for whomever he wants, but I do think there is a reason the Academy wants members to refrain from spilling too much about the way they vote.  After all, the Oscar telecast is a cash cow for both the ABC TV network as well as the Academy, and too much dissension among the ranks might turn-off viewers, which is bad for business. I also wonder if Clennon is somehow trivializing a serious discussion about torture by reducing it to the level of how he plans to vote for the Academy Awards. Only in Hollywood do people take themselves that seriously.

Kathryn Bigelow, “…a lifelong pacifist”:

Interview with screenwriter Mark Boal:

President George W. Bush Post 9/11 speech:

David Clennon’s op-ed piece at

A CIA vet reviews Zero Dark Thirty and asserts its veracity:

The matter of Quvenzhané Wallis’s age:


These Globes are Golden

14 Jan

Welcome to my Golden Globe wrap. The emphasis here is only on the awards in the movie categories. A different blogger will have to cover the TV winners.  I’m also saving more detailed analysis for later.

^ Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

^ Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables) – Hathaway amusingly noted that her trophy will function as a blunt instrument against self doubt in the future. Plus, she gave a nice shout-out to fellow nominee Sally Fields.


^ Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) – This is Waltz’s first major award of the season. He won three years ago for another Tarantino film, Inglorious Basterds.

^ Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

^ Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) –  It’s been a  busy week for this actress. On Thursday, she won Best Actress in a Comedy honors at the Critics Choice Awards sponsored by the Broadcast Film Critics Association. At the same ceremony, she was named Best Actress in an Action Movie for her starring role in the blockbuster The Hunger Games.


Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical: Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables) – Jackman’s role as Jean Valjean in the big screen version of the long running musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s epic novel is the first movie role to showcase his background in musical theater. His win last night at least temporarily stalled the momentum generated by Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook (in the same category).


^ Best Motion Picture Comedy/Musical: Les Misérables – Though the “Drama” categories often generate more coverage, the truth is that Les Misérables won more Golden Globes than any other film last night: Best Supporting Actress, Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical, and Best Motion Picture Comedy/Musical.

^ Jessica Chastain

^ Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) – She’s crazy scary good as a CIA agent trying to track down Osama bin Laden in the most sensational man-hunt of all time. The wildly controversial Zero Dark Thirty was the #1 movie in the country over the weekend, earning $24 million dollars as it expanded to a wide national release (for a total of 29 million). In contrast, producer-director Kathryn Bigelow’s last film, the Oscar winning The Hurt Locker, only earned 17 million in its entire 2009/2010 run.

^ Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)

^ Best Actor in Motion Picture Drama: Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln) – I’m not too keen on making a prediction at this early date, but many industry watchers believe DDL is the closest thing to a lock in the upcoming Oscar race. He, Chastain, Hathaway, and Lawrence, as already noted,  all won Critics Choice awards earlier in the week.

Best Director: Ben Affleck (Argo) -

Best Director: Ben Affleck (Argo) – No Affleck wasn’t nominated for Best Director by members of the Academy, but he’s had an amazing run with Argo, including a  Directors Guild nod and two big wins at the Globes.

Best Motion Picture Drama: Argo -

^ Best Motion Picture Drama: Argo –  Ben Affleck, one of the co-producers of Argo, poses with his fellow Argo producers, Grant Heslov and George Clooney.  As one of the film’s producers, Affleck could still snare an Oscar if Argo wins Best Picture.

Other highlights…

^ Best Song from a Movie: "Skyfall" (Skyfall) by Adele w/Paul Epworth

^ Best Song from a Movie: “Skyfall” (Skyfall) by Adele w/Paul Epworth – It’s a good time for Adele (above) and the Bond franchise. She just had a baby, and her album 21 was announced as the best selling album of 2012, following a similar achievement in 2011; meanwhile, Skyfall has become the most successful James Bond film ever, earning over 1 billion dollars worldwide. At next month’s Oscars, the 50th anniversary of the Bond series will be celebrated, and, of course, Adele will be on hand as “Skyfall” competes for Best Song.

^ Jodie Foster, winner of the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award - Stunning. She's 50 years old, and she's talking about retiring; meanwhile, actresses that are older, such as Jessica Lange and Meryl Streep, are still going strong, but, of course, Foster has been acting, making commericals, movies, and TV shows, since she was three years old. That's incredible.  I don't know her, but I love what I know about her. We grew up together.  I'm happy for all her success.

^ Jodie Foster, winner of the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award – Stunning. She’s 50 years old, and she’s talking about retiring; meanwhile, actresses that are older, such as Jessica Lange and Meryl Streep, are still going strong, but, of course, Foster has been acting, making commericals, movies, and TV shows, since she was three years old, 47 of her 50 years. That’s incredible. I don’t know her, but I love what I know about her. We grew up together. I’m happy for all her success. Oh, and she looks like a million bucks.

^ Tina Fey (l) and Amy Poehler (r): Welcome to the TV Awards Show Hall of Fame. "A hit, a very palpable hit." Thanks, ladies.

^ Tina Fey (l) and Amy Poehler (r): Welcome to the TV Awards Show Hall of Fame. “A hit, a very palpable hit.” Thanks, ladies.

^ Random photo of Jessica Lange with her Golden Globe for her motion picture debut in 1976's King Kong. So lovely, so chic.

^ Random photo of Jessica Lange with her Golden Globe for her motion picture debut in 1976’s King Kong. So lovely, so chic. Lange was a nominee last night for performance as a nun with a troubled past in American Horror Story: Asylum.

Up next? The Screen Actors Guild  awards on Sunday, January, 27th, 2013.

Thanks for your consideration….

Complete list of Golden Globe winners at the Internet Movie Database:

Adele at

Oscar, Oscar, Give Me the News!

10 Jan

Whoah! Stop the presses. The Academy nominations have landed with a few big, make that huge, surprises.   I’ll start with two: directors Ben Affleck (Argo) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) have been, well, unaccountably snubbed even though their respective movies have been nominated for Best Picture. Of course, there is almost always a discrepancy between Best Picture and Best Director nominees, so this shouldn’t be such a big huge deal, but Affleck and Bigelow have, along with Lincoln‘s Steven Spielberg, been considered virtual certainties for much of the season; both were nominated for the Directors Guild award just a couple of days ago, even. Now, without corresponding nods for Best Director, neither film appears to have much of a chance for the top trophy. Ditto Tom Hooper and Les Misérables, another snubbed director of a popular Best Picture nominee–and to clarify, Hooper is also up for a DGA award this year as well. Furthermore, Hooper’s film features a considerable 8 nods, including two Oscar nominated performers, Hugh Jackman (Best Actor) and Anne Hathaway (Best Supporting Actress),  which certainly reflects well on Hooper, making his exclusion all the more baffling, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

Okay, so here we go. Here are the nominees for Best Picture (in alphabetical order):

  1. Amour (5 Nominations)
  2. Argo (7 Nominations)
  3. Beasts of the Southern Wild (4 Nominations)
  4. Django Unchained (5 Nominations)
  5. Les Misérables (8 Nominations)
  6. Life of Pi (11 Nominations)
  7. Lincoln (12 nominations)
  8. Silver Linings Playbook (8 Nominations)
  9. Zero Dark Thirty (5 Nominations)
^ Meert Benh Zeitlin, the "other" Ben. Zeitlin is 30 years old, and today he was nominated for two Oscars:.

^ Meet Benh Zeitlin, the “other” Ben. Zeitlin is 30 years old. Beasts of the Southern Wild is his first feature film. Today, he was nominated for two Oscars: Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, a nod he shares with co-scriptor Lucy Alibar. Congratulations!

Hmmm…nine nominees for Best Picture with Lincoln leading the pack with a staggering 12 nods.  This is the movie that has been considered the heavyweight for much of the season though, of course, it was considered the heavyweight in what was widely perceived to be a three way race between it, Argo, and Zero Dark Thirty, which Michael and I plan to see today.  Now, it looks like Lincoln‘s strongest competitor might very well turn out to be NOT Life of Pi, coming in second with 11 nods, mostly technical, but Silver Linings Playbook which is the first movie since 1981’s Reds to score nominations in all four acting categories: Best Actor (Bradley Cooper),  Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro) and Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver).  Not only do these acting nods show strong support for the movie as a whole, it also helps to remember that Silver Linings Playbook is coming to us from, wait for it, the Weinsteins, which means the Brothers W will mercilessly hype their movie like nobody has hyped a movie since last year’s big winner, The Artist–also from the Weinsteins. Silver Linings is still playing on fewer than 1000 theatres, where it has performed solidly if not spectacularly. The nominations will definitely give it a boost when it goes truly wide, probably tomorrow or next week. On the other hand, all the hype, all the Oscar buzz etc. could not turn The Artist into a mainstream hit last year. Worse, the bins at my favorite video outlet are full of greatly reduced copies of The Artist on Blu-Ray and DVD. It seems like the only people who cared about The Artist were members of the Academy and the Weinsteins, of course. I hope the Academy doesn’t further damage its credibility this year by getting sucked into that mess again. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I liked Silver Linings Playbook well enough, but its greatest strength is indeed its performances. The film as a whole seems to lack the heft of a Best Picture winner–oh wait a second–as did The Artist.

On the other hand, kudos to the cast and crew of Beasts of the Southern Wild, a true independently made film that secured its place in the Oscar race without all that Weinstein bluster (which is not to say there wasn’t any campaigning).  Now that Life of Pi has scored its impressive 11 nods, I’ll try to squeeze it into my viewing schedule if at all possible. On the other hand, now that Django Unchained‘s Quentin Tarantino has been snubbed (as a director –not as a writer), I’ll probably skip the movie all together.  That’s my preogative.  Meanwhile, I do wish that Moonrise Kingdom, from Texas’s own Wes Anderson, had figured as a darkhorse candidate. I guess that distinction now goes to Beasts of the Southern Wild, possibly Amour. If you haven’t seen  Moonrise Kingdom, a post modern variation on Romeo and Juliet for the Mad Men setplease give it a shot.  The upside: at least Moonrise Kingdom was not shut-out entirely as it scored a Best Original Screenplay nod for Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola. It would not have been a stretch for the movie to figure in the art direction race either, but I digress.

The nominees for Best Actress are…

  1. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
  2. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
  3. Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
  4. Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  5. Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
^ This year's Best Actress lineup includes three previous nominees--in alphabetical order: Jessica Chastain (above), previously of 2011's The Help; Jennifer Lawrence, from 2010's Winter's Bone, and Naomi Watts, who was last in the running for 2003's 21 Grams.

^ This year’s Best Actress lineup includes three veteran nominees–in alphabetical order: Jessica Chastain (above), previously of 2011’s The Help; Jennifer Lawrence, from 2010’s Winter’s Bone, and Naomi Watts, who was last in the running for 2003’s 21 Grams.

Hmmmm….no real surprises here. Oh sure, there is the novelty of pitting the oldest ever nominee in the category (Riva, 85) against the youngest (Wallis, 9).  This could turn out to be the story that generates the most ink though that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Academy will follow suit; however,  I suppose that a win for either actress would make for “good” television. That noted, until now, this race has been perceived as a showdown between Chastain and Lawrence, but now that Chastain’s movie has had some of the wind let out of its sails, there is no telling how the Academy will respond to her specific performance. She could be swept under the carpet or she could be the best chance at a consolation prize.  Watts’s film has yet to go wide, and her performance is reportedly quite powerful, but she also represents The Impossible‘s only nod–in a field in which the other four nominees appear in Best Picture nominees, which almost never happens.  Again, even though none of these nods are really surprising, there are a few notable omissions, mainly Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone) and Helen Mirren (Hitchcock).  I have to say that I’m relieved that Cotillard wasn’t nominated for her role in the French-Belgian story of a whale trainer whose legs are amputated after an accident. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against Cotillard or French films in general, but this just seemed a bit much to handle in a year that also presents Watts as a tsunami survivor and Riva as the victim of a stroke.  Plus, Cotillard already has an Oscar for playing Edith Piaf, so she’s not hurting. Furthermore, to back track just a bit, even though I don’t have anything against French films, it would have been horrible to think that the Academy might have had to look to foreign language films for not one, but two, suitable Best Actress candidates, and my point is this: American filmmakers (producers, directors, writers, studio heads) should be doing a better job of creating exciting, award worthy roles for our own actresses. Of course, Watts is an  English actress (often identified as an Aussie) who stars in an internationally funded project, so there’s also that. That’s my point. That noted: I know that at least Del Shores wrote a wonderful, if disturbing, role for the magnificent Beth Grant in Blues for Willadean, but that tiny indie has yet to be given a strong national push. Oh, and in Mirren’s case, well, Hitchcock, despite Mirren’s grounded performance, was not a particularly strong or likable film even though Mirren has done well so far, garnering both Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nods. Still, like Cotillard, she already has a Best Actress Oscar (The Queen, 2006), and a recent star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so that will have to keep her satisfied until her next truly great screen role.

The nominees for Best Actor are…

  1. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
  2. Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)
  3. Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)
  4. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
  5. Denzel Washington (Flight)

^ Of course, that’s the real President Abraham Lincoln in the inset and Best Actor nominee Daniel Day Lewis in full makeup on the right. Incredibly, though Lincoln leads the Oscar race with nods in 12 categories, its stunning makeup is not included among the finalists.

Okay, one actor’s gain here is another actor’s loss, and that’s quite a bittersweet thing for me. Joaquin Phoenix is “in” for The Master after having been written off as a possibility thanks to some of his p.r. blunders. His inclusion is actually a refreshing thing to me. On the other hand, his name on the ballot likely comes at the expense of John Hawkes (The Sessions) as polio stricken poet Mark O’Brien. Truthfully, even though I’m a huge fan of all these nominated performances, and would be content–as of now–for any of them to win, Hawkes’s portrayal is the one that has stuck with me the longest, and I can’t explain why. I don’t think it’s “sympathy” because he was/is playing someone with a severe disability. I think it has something to do with the way the role challenged him to act with only limited use of his body (as he spends a lot of time in an iron lung and is pretty well immobile anyway). On the other hand, Michael, my hubby, thinks that that is the very thing that hampered Hawkes’s chances since he was pretty well acting only from the neck up. I think that is a little over-simplified, but there just might be a kernel of truth in their somewhere.  Again, Hawkes’s loss is Phoenix’s gain, so this is not a travesty; it’s just a wee bit unfortunate. I’m happy for Cooper and Jackman, both of whom are good actors that have been in search of just the right roles to prove their mettle to the Academy members.  These two Oscar newcomers, by the way, are in a race with a pair of two-time winners: Daniel Day Lewis and Denzel Washington. DDL’s two Best Actor awards are for My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood; this is his 5th nomination. Washington won his first Oscar in the supporting category for Glory (also 1989); he won Best Actor for 2001’s Training Day; this is his 6th nomination.  It’s great to see him in this character driven piece after so many years of high concept action/suspense films. As for Phoenix, btw, this is third Oscar race. He was a Best Supporting Actor candidate for Gladiator (2000) and a Best Actor nominee for Walk the Line (2005). I think this is still the most interesting race in the bunch. They all give strong performances and bring interesting variables with them.

Meanwhile, better luck next time to not only Hawkes but also Jack Black (Bernie) and Richard Gere (Arbitrage). The latter two had excellent vehicles in which to showcase their talents, but they weren’t necessarily the right movies in such a weighty, competitive year.

For Best Supporting Actress, the nominees are…

  1. Amy Adams (The Master)
  2. Sally Field (Lincoln)
  3. Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
  4. Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
  5. Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

^ This is Helen Hunt’s second nomination. She won Best Actress for 1997’s As Good as It Gets. Hunt is one of only two previous victors in this category. Sally Field (Lincoln) earned Best Actress honors for both Norma Rae (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984). This is Field’s first Oscar race in 28 years. Every other nominee in this race has notched at least one prior nod.

There are two happy surprise here: Jackie Weaver and, less so, Amy Adams. Weaver is a 60ish Aussie who was first nominated two years ago in this category for the crime family film, Animal Kingdom. She’s terrific in Silver Linings Playbook, giving a just about perfect example of what a thoughtful, well-rounded,  supporting performance should be, so congrats! Also, please keep in mind that when she was in the 2010 race, she lost to Melissa Leo in The Fighter, which was directed by David O. Russell, who also directs Weaver in her current nominated film. Perhaps Russell has the magic touch with performers. As far as Adams goes, this is her fourth nomination in this category– Junebug (2005), Doubt (2008), The Fighter (2010), and now The Master, in which she plays one of her most challenging roles: the seemingly eternally pregnant wife of a cult leader enacted by Philip Seymour Hoffman (who starred with her in Doubt) though there is some question as to who has all the power in the relationship–not to mention who’s the craziest of the two. Adams also has the thankless task of making a particular  scene–that no one ever wants to see again–work. Of course, it’s no surprise to see Field and Hathaway on board. Their nominations are well-expected and well-deserved. Hathaway was an early frontrunner, but she might have actively courted the media too eagerly–and too often–so that she has possibly already worn out her welcome. She was a 2008/09 Best Actress nominee for Rachel at the Wedding.  Meanwhile, I take exception to Hunt’s nomination. Oh yeah, sure, it’s great she’s willing to go all the way bare at her age–she turns 50 this year–and that she clearly has a real woman’s body rather than a plastic surgeon’s delight, but I protest her nomination on the grounds that her role as the sex therapist who helps Hawkes’s O’Brien work through his issue with physical intimacy is actually leading rather than supporting; after all, as Michael concurs, her character is as much affected by the relationship with O’Brien as he is by his relationship with her. It’s the story of two people, not one.  Even so, Hunt was positioned, so to speak, almost from the beginning as a supporting player, and I can’t figure out why. If she had been “promoted” to the leading category, her spot in the race could have easily been filled by the likes of Judi Dench (Skyfall), Ann Dowd (Compliance), or Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel); possibly Scarlett Johansson (spot on as Janet Leigh in Hitchcock) or Susan Sarandon, still capable of delivering the goods in Arbitrage.  The omission is probably especially crushing for Dowd who reportedly financed her own p.r. blitz in hopes of garnering a nod after scoring great reviews in a little seen indie film.  Oh yes, the lure of Oscar gold is powerful, and Dowd is not the first person to invest in a “For Your Consideration” campaign when, for whatever reason, s/he believes studio publicists are not doing their best to promote a given film/performance.  While Dowd missed out this year, perhaps the year-end recognition she has received for Compliance will help her secure bigger parts in more high profile films in the future, which is really what it’s all about anyway, meaning the goal is to work on worthwhile projects–hopefully that pay–rather than to simply win awards.  (Don’t tell the Weinsteins. They’ll be crushed. Work only has value for them if they can make a lot of noise and draw attention to themselves, their “good taste,” much like Charlie the Tuna.)

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor…

  1. Alan Arkin (Argo)
  2. Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
  3. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
  4. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
  5. Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

^ In Argo, Best Supporting Actor nominee Alan Arkin portrays an exploitation type movie producer who lends his expertise to a CIA plot to rescue Americans out of Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis. Not only do all the nominees in Arkin’s category already have the distinction of being Oscar winners, they boast a whopping 21 nominations, including this year’s, among them: four each for Arkin, Hoffman, and Jones; seven–and two wins–for De Niro; alas, only two for Christoph Waltz who won three years ago for Inglorius Basterds.

Every actor in this race is a previous winner; indeed, De Niro is a a two-time champ. They are also all over 50, so it’s hard to imagine which of them will emerge the sentimental favorite since that’s the way this category often goes.  If I were to nitpick, I might argue that Hoffman’s role in The Master is really a co-lead, alongside Joaquin Phoenix, rather than a supporting one. I could also argue that despite a bunch of hoopla, much of generated by the Weinsteins, Waltz might not have much of a chance here only in that he has already achieved an Oscar for a performance in a Quentin Tarantino film.  He might have to , well, “go another way” in order to claim a second trophy. Of course, the simple truth is that there are almost always more eligible candidates for Best Supporting Actor than there are in any of the other acting categories, and that means more disappointments, more also-rans. In this case, that list includes John Goodman (Argo and Flight) and Matthew McConaughey (Bernie and Magic Mike). Of course, these two actors, both looking to earn their first nods, might have had the mixed fortune of being good in more than one film, which often ends up with split votes. It would have been nice if McConaughey had been invited along for the ride just to add some sex appeal. Plus, he was wonderful as a self-righteous D.A. in Bernie. I skipped Magic Mike, btw.  Not because I’m a prude, per se, but because I’m not that interested in its leading man, Channing Tatum. Of course, my pick for the year’s Best Supporting Actor would have to be the likewise neglected Dwight Henry, a non-professional, like Quvenzhané Wallis, who just, what, burned a hole through the screen as the conflicted father–to Wallis’s “Hushpuppy”–in Beasts of the Southern Wild.  I wish the publicists marketing the picture for awards consideration had spent more time focusing on Henry rather than directing so much attention to the nine year old actress, which, of course, is a marketable story, and Oscar voters love these little narratives. Of course they do. It will be interesting to see if either Wallis or Henry are courted by filmmakers after the excitement of the Oscars fades.  For now, I think Jones might be the man to beat.

Before I move on to Best Director, I want to point out a few more items of interest. Despite what appeared to be encouraging signs for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, in which British seniors reinvent themselves, or not, after visiting India, the so-called “Little Movie that Could” didn’t, meaning not only does it not appear as a “surprise” Best Picture candidate, it was locked-out of each and every category, including, as already noted, Maggie Smith for Best Supporting Actress, but also Tom Wilkinson (Best Supporting Actor), not to mention Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, etc. It would be tempting to say that the movie reads “too old” for Academy members who want to be thought of as young and hip, but that’s not really true given the presence of Amour, which details what happens to an elderly–hetero–couple after the wife has a stroke. No sign of ageism there though maybe the Academy felt like one “old-timers” movie was enough.

On the other hand, I’m happy to see that Anna Karenina has not been entirely shut-out. As a whole film, it has some noticeable shortcomings, mainly in the form of its leading lady, Keira Knightley, yet it is smashingly produced and has been recognized in the areas in which is excels: Cinematography, Costume Design, and Production Design and one more: Best Original Score. This is a lovely-to-look-at movie, and it can be fun if approached in the right frame of mind. Additionally, Skyfall, which may very well be the greatest of all Bond films, is up for 5 Oscars, and that might be a record of sorts. Of course, two of those are for cinematographer Roger Deakins and for “Best Song,” courtesy of the sensationally popular singer Adele (whose 2i was just named the year’s best selling album–for the second year in a row) and co-writer Paul Epworth.  I’m rooting for Deakins though I am surprised to see that cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., who did such a wonderful job shooting The Master in 70mm for director Paul Thomas Anderson, was shut-out. Have you seen The Master? The omission just does not make sense.

Oh, and if you’re looking to see Cloud Atlas among the nominees for Best Makeup, you can stop. Not only was it not nominated, it wasn’t even on the “final” list of eligible candidates that was released a few weeks ago. Don’t ask me why. If you’re unfamiliar, Cloud Atlas, from the team of Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run), starred a dozen or so top performers, including Oscar winners Halle Berry and Tom Hanks, in a series of not quite interconnecting stories that span all manners of time and space with actors playing multiple roles, always sporting a different “character” makeup effect.  Ever since the movie started generating pre-release buzz, the one thing that seemed certain about its Oscar chances was that it was a shoo-in for Best Makeup, but as early as two weeks ago, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. I’ve seen weird stuff like this happen before in this category. Of course, the Academy is not obligated to explain itself, but my guess is, after clicking on Cloud Atlas on the IMDb,  is that with a makeup team of over two dozen artisans, the members of the makeup branch of the Academy could not come to a resolution about how many names to include on the final ballot, especially if the work was not the unique vision of one acknowledged team leader–but that’s just a guess.  The actual nominees for Best Makeup, by the way, are Hitchcock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and Les Misérables, which also means that Lincoln is out of the picture–maybe the wig worn by Tommy Lee Jones’s character creeped out too many voters though I think that was the point. That noted, wasn’t the job on DDL amazing???

Finally, here is the Best Director lineup:

  1. Michael Haneke (Amour)
  2. Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
  3. David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
  4. Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
  5. Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

^ Hi, my name is Kathryn Bigelow. I won Oscars for directing and co-producing 2009’s The Hurt Locker. In doing so, I broke through the gender boundary by becoming the first woman to ever achieve an Oscar for directing a full-length feature film. To clarify, I was only the fourth female ever so nominated. Today, I was glossed over as a Best Director hopeful for my stunning new film Zero Dark Thirty, an excruciatingly intense re-enactment of the confusing and seemingly futile though ultimately successful, effort to track down and kill the world’s most notorious terrorist, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on America. Did I mention that my movie is once again in the running for Best Picture, and that I may have very well earned more awards, at this point in the season, than any other Best Director hopeful, including Steven Spielberg who’s in the race for Lincoln? Did I also mention that I am a current candidate for the prestigious Directors Guild of America award? Did I mention the logistics of bringing this story to the big screen in something like only a year and half, give or take, while Spielberg reportedly labored over his movie for a decade? Are you as concerned as I am that it seems as though many of this morning’s “entertainment news” commentators were more agog that a 9 year old girl was nominated for Best Actress than they were about the possibilities of sexism or the cold reality that American studios seem to have forgotten how to create complex award worthy roles for grown women, notwithstanding, of course, the great Jessica Chastain who stars as fiercely committed, fiercely patriotic, CIA operative in Zero Dark Thirty? Thanks for your consideration.

Well, it’s really hard to know what to make of this. I wouldn’t call it a mess, exactly, but it does show how schizoid the Academy is these days.  On the one hand, the Academy has been on a tear lately to attract a younger, hipper, edgier, crowd–and that pretty much means teenagers, gamers and/or fanboys, yet the five nominated directors in this category don’t really help that mission. Amour, which I have not seen though I plan to asap, is well, more than just a little on the geriatric side. Plus, it’s in French…not a fanboy turn-on, that. Okay, Beasts of the Southern Wild features a young girl as its leading character, but it’s hardly a popcorn friendly Saturday matinee kids’ pick either. Do I think young people will watch this year’s Oscars to see these films compete–even with an “edgy” host such as Seth McFarlane on board?  My guess is not so much. Are Academy members wrong to vote their conscience? Nope. Please don’t think I’m judging. It is what is is: the Academy governors and the suits at ABC, long the official network of the program, want younger viewers and rack their silly brains every year (for at least the past decade) in order to make that happen, but the choice of nominated films does not reflect that. I predict more tinkering.

Keep in mind, that the five Best Picture nominees with correlating Best Director nods have, historically, a greater chance of winning in at least one category–and usually both, which means it now appears that Argo, with the allure of a movie star-turned-director Ben Affleck, and Les Misérables, a  legendarily popular stage musical with a built-in audience (not to mention a literary classic, of course), are now merely along for the ride. Their chances of winning have been drastically reduced. And what about Zero Dark Thirty‘s Kathryn Bigelow? Is her omission the result of mere sexism, or is she being punished for making a movie that courts more controversy than Academy members can stomach? Maybe Oscar voters believe Bigelow is too soon dipping back into the pool (the war against terrorism) that helped her break through the gender barrier just a few years ago with The Hurt Locker. (Maybe not, since she still earned a nod as one of the film’s producers.)  Perhaps Oscar voters believe both she and Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) have each won too soon to come back for more at this time, as Hooper took top honors two years ago for The King’s Speech (a year after Bigelow’s triumph).

Here is what I do know at last. A few days ago, I wrote about the Directors Guild nominees, which included Affleck, Bigelow, and Hooper. Typically though not always, the Academy follows where the DGA leads. This Oscar final ballot of Best Director candidates scarcely resembles the DGA lineup save for Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), and I can’t recall–yet–another year in which the two rosters had so little in common.  Now, all bets are off.  Well, except one: someone somewhere in a position of power is bound to complain the morning after the Oscars–and I’ll be here to write about it.

Thanks for your consideration…

Read the complete list of nominees at the Academy’s official website:

Where the DGA Award Goes, Oscar Usually Follows…

8 Jan

Hey, y’all! The nominations for this year’s Directors Guild of America Award have been announced, and there are only a pair of moderate surprises. Of course, Ben Affleck (Argo), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), and Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) are all on board. The two “surprises,” if that’s the right word, are Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) and Ang Lee (Life of Pi).  The former is a surprise only in that his film has not been as widely praised as other entries in the line-up while the latter’s offering has also received mixed reviews and has, additionally, been slow to build an audience.  The more high profile omissions include Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), possibly Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), and, okay, both Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises), and Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained). Personally, I would have loved it if Wes Anderson had been recognized for Moonrise Kingdom though I do not think his omission is earth-shattering.

Why all the hoopla over the DGA? Well, ever since the guild started awarding an annual prize back in the 1940s, it has long been considered a crystal ball, of sorts, for the Oscars, often signaling the Academy’s choice for Best Director, which, of course, generally correlates with the Best Picture Oscar. How neat and tidy is that? Of course, over the past few decades, the Academy and the DGA have not matched up as consistently as they once had. For example, in 2000, the DGA award went to Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) while the Academy singled out Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) for Best Director yet  looked to a third movie, Gladiator (directed by Ridley Scott), to bestow the Best Picture Oscar. In 2002, Rob Marshall  (Chicago) took the guild prize, but the Academy, somewhat surprisingly, honored Roman Polanski for The Pianist even though Chicago was named Best PictureThen, in 2005, the DGA once again honored Ang Lee, for the “breakthrough” Brokeback Mountain. The Academy likewise singled out Lee, but the Best Picture trophy was awarded to Crash. These calls aren’t as easy to make as they once were though the last few DGA recipients, two of which are also in the race this year, have emerged victorious at the Oscars to boot.

Well, Oscar nominations are due Thursday morning, and it will be interesting to see how this lineup compares (or contrasts) with the Academy’s selection. Keep in mind, just as with the guild awards, directors nominate other directors though the Academy’s voting branch is much smaller than that of the DGA, which means there might still be hope for the Andersons: Paul Thomas and Wes (no relation).  Something else to consider is the Academy’s latest Best Picture policy that recognizes as many as 10, but no more than 5, finalists, which means that films nominated for Best Picture and Best Director will likely stand a better chance at claiming the top Oscar, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Here are snapshots, so to speak, of the current DGA nominees.

Premiere Of Warner Bros. Pictures' "Argo" - Arrivals

Ben Affleck (Argo): Actor/directors, such as Woody Allen (Annie Hall, 1977) and Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves, 1990) have won DGA awards for movies in which they also starred; both also won Oscars. Additonally, Clint Eastwood has twice been recognized by his peers in the guild for movies in which he directed himself: Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004); he likewise went on to garner top honors with the Academy. On the other hand, Mel Gibson was nominated for the DGA prize for Braveheart, in which he also acted, but he lost that award–to Ron Howard for Apollo 13–though he ultimately claimed Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. Win or lose, with Argo, Affleck has made a huge leap from an actor who sometimes directs (Gone, Baby, Gone, and The Town) to a filmmaker with which to be reckoned.


Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty): This is Bigelow’s second DGA nomination. She became the first woman to win both the DGA prize for feature films and the Academy Award for Best Director for 2009’s The Hurt Locker. Her latest nomination proves that The Hurt Locker was no fluke. She will almost certainly be on this week’s Oscar ballot as well. Zero Dark Thirty is currently playing in limited engagements–as in less than 100 theatres across the country, per Box Office Mojo. It will be interesting to see if the controversy surrounding the film’s depiction of “enhanced interrogation” (aka torture) will be a turn-off or a turn-on for mainstream moviegoers when its run expands after the Oscar nods are announced.

tom hooper les miserables

Tom Hooper (Les Misérables): This is Hooper’s second DGA nomination for feature films. He won for 2010’s The King’s Speech in a tough race that pitted him against, among others, David Fincher for The Social Network. Hooper went on to win the Oscar as The King’s Speech also won for Best Picture. Though the reviews for Les Misérables have most certainly been mixed, the movie opened huge–though its box office take has tapered somewhat. Still, it has already hit 100 million, thereby recouping its original production costs. Today’s nomination for Hooper bodes well for this week’s Oscar nods. My feeling is that Hooper’s colleagues appreciate the challenges of shooting a period film with hundreds, if not thousands, of extras, a musical, no less, in which the all the singing was recorded live on the set. Degree of difficulty often counts. Hooper also boasts a DGA nom for his work on the John Adams miniseries on HBO.



Ang Lee (Life of Pi): This is Lee’s fourth DGA nomination. As outlined above, he has twice won for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Brokeback Mountain (2005). He shot Life of Pi in 3-D, and the film has been heralded for being a major technical accomplishment, but will that be enough to assure a third win? Lee’s first DGA nod was for 1995’s Sense and Sensibility, which went on to garner 7 Oscar nominations including Best Picture–but nothing for Lee as director.


Steven Spielberg (Lincoln): This is Spielberg’s 11th DGA nomination. He has won three times: The Color Purple (1985), Schindler’s List (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998); his other nominations are for Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982), Empire of the Sun (1987), Amistad (1997), and Munich (2005). He has also been honored with a DGA Lifetime Achievement award. His Lincoln is the top grossing picture in this already impressive lineup of contenders. Many prognosticators believe Lincoln is the movie to beat for the Academy’s top award though, of course, Spielberg has been down this path with the Academy more than once. For example, in 1998, he won both the DGA award and the Oscar for Saving Private Ryan, but the Best Picture Oscar went to Shakespeare in Love.

Thanks for your consideration…


Zero Dark Thirty at Box Office Mojo:

The Producers Guild Presents a Possible Oscar Preview

3 Jan

In its current incarnation, the Producers Guild Award dates back to the 1989/90 awards season when the the guild’s pick for Best Picture, Driving Miss Daisy, matched the Academy’s top Oscar. At that time, the award was called the “Laurel,” which was also the name of an older award once presented by  Motion Picture Exhibitor magazine.The PGA award doesn’t always foreshadow the Academy’s Best Picture winner; however, the last time there was a difference of opinion was during the 2006/07 campaign when the Oscar went to The Departed while the guild opted for Little Miss Sunshine. The year before that, Crash snagged the Oscar while Brokeback Mountain took the PGA prize.

Good morning! Well, believe it or not, the Oscar nominations are set to be announced exactly one week from today. I’ll be eagerly watching CNN and checking the web, of course. Oh by the way: no, you’re not crazy. This will be the earliest the Oscar nominations have been announced in the past several decades. When I first became interested in the Oscars, way back in the early 1970s, the nominations were announced sometime around Valentine’s Day in mid-February (or thereabouts) with the actual ceremony scheduled for the end of March–usually the last Monday of the month–sometimes early April, depending on how Easter might have fallen in a given year.  For the past decade or so, there has been a lot of tinkering with the timeline for various reasons, including a not entirely successful plan to minimize the amount of active campaigning by the studios, which can go way overboard, and a concerted effort to keep the Oscar in the forefront of a televised awards season blitz that also includes the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild awards, etc. Once upon a time, the Oscar nominations weren’t announced until after the presentation of the GGs, and everybody seemed okay with that, but now the powers that be at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and no doubt the brass at ABC TV, the official Oscar network, worry that their show seems like an afterthought rather than the main attraction, so the plan is to start generating excitement and awareness of the Oscars by announcing their nominees much earlier than usual.

Really, this is all about the Academy desperately trying to maintain in an era in which awards shows are no longer the guaranteed ratings draw they once were. I think it’s unbecoming for the Academy to continually try to re-invent itself in order to attract the attention of a demographic–mostly teenage boys and anyone else who prefers gaming over watching movies and/or TV in the first place–that is simply not interested. My concern has always been that by making so many changes, all the Academy is doing is alienating older viewers while not successfully expanding its audience, but I digress.

At any rate, we now have a possible clue about how the race for Best Picture could look. Yesterday, the Producers Guild of America announced its nominees for Best Picture. This year, the guild has selected 10 films to compete for its top award. There’s no telling how many movies will feature in the Academy’s race.  Again, for most of the Academy’s history, the final slate consisted of 5 nominees. In 2009, the race was expanded to include 10 entries (again, in the hopes of including more top grossing “popcorn” style extravaganzas), but that was a gamble that didn’t produce a huge spike in ratings–besides generating talk that 10 nominees made the awards less prestigious and  actually less competitive.  As a result, the rules were once again reconfigured so that,  as of last year, the final roster may include as many as 10 films and no less than 5.  A lot of this depends on how many movies receive a certain percent of votes on the first round ballot. Believe me, it’s complicated.

Anyway, here is the list of the PGA nominees.  I don’t think there are too many surprises with the possible exception of Skyfall being included, but I’m good with that; after all, not only is the latest 007 entry a spectacular box office success, it has impeccable credentials, what with such behind the scenes talent as Oscar winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, 1999) and highly regarded cinematographer Richard Deakins, whose many credits include Oscar nominated work for 2010’s True Grit remake as well as O Brother, Where Art Thou? in 2000. Skyfall also boasts a couple of acclaimed performances by past Oscar winners Judi Dench (Best Supporting Actress for 1998’s Shakespeare in Love) and Javier Bardem (Best Supporting Actor for 2007’s No Country for Old Men). Oh yes, and there’s also that booming title track by singing powerhouse Adele.  Of course, being nominated is one thing; winning is quite another. I see this race as a three way contest between Argo, Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty though it is clear that the other movies have their champions.  Also, it is important to know that voting for the Producers Guild award is limited to people who actually, well, produce movies for a living while the Academy’s top prize is voted on by members in all of the Academy’s various branches: actors, writers, directors, costume designers, composers, etc. so the dynamic will always be slightly different.

That noted, I guess some people might have expected to see The Hobbit among the finalists, but my guess is after all the accolades earned by Peter Jackson for his work on the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, his latest effort, a worldwide hit, might seem a little old hat–and, certainly, there’s nothing old hat about, say, Beasts of the Southern Wild, one of the year’s most startlingly imaginative flicks–and a relative box office hit. I would not have been surprised if The Hunger Games or The Perks of Being a Wallflower had been on the list though I also don’t see the omission of either as particularly surprising.

Okay, of the ten movies on the following list,  I have actually seen seven. Of the three remaining titles, well, Zero Dark Thirty hasn’t even opened in Dallas yet, but I have every intention of seeing it just as soon as possible.  I can’t work up much enthusiasm over either Life of Pi or Django Unchained.  Sorry ’bout it, but it’s my time and my money, and choices have to be made. On the other hand, I’m quite pleased to know that Moonrise Kingdom, released oh so many months ago, is being honored.

If you want to see the lists of nominees in other categories, Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary, etc., please refer to the official Producers Guild website.

  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Misérables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Skyfall
  • Zero Dark Thirty

The PGA winners will be announced on January 26th, but I’ll be back next week with the latest Oscar news.

Thanks for your consideration…

The Producers Guild of America website:

PGA at the IMDb:


*PS apologies to all who read this when I had mistakenly written 2009 instead of 201o as the year of the True Grit remake.

The Movie Bucket List

1 Jan

Happy New Year! Welcome to my Movie Bucket List…

1. I am generally a happy person. Yes, I occasionally experience a bad patch, a “muddle” is how I believe it is described in E.M. Forster’s Howards End, but I won’t swear to that. I’m all in favor of throwing myself a nice pity party every so often, but I have a two-day-max rule, and then back to business as usual.

2. I have a number of regrets in life, and I’m okay with that. I know some people, including Edith Piaf, spout the virtues of having “No Regrets,” but I’m not like that.  This is a thorny issue: some people believe that “no regrets” is the best philosophy because the actions of our lifetimes have made us who we are. Yep, I see that, but I’ve come to the same realization precisely because I do have regrets. In other words, by taking stock of my actions, seeing where I’ve erred, and taking responsibility for all of that, I’ve learned, grown, and, hopefully, made myself a better person. If I’d never regretted some of what I’d done, I might very well keep making some of the mistakes. I guess it’s just a matter of semantics more than anything else.

3. Nonetheless, I am generally a happy person. I’m not rich or famous, nor have I achieved everything life I have ever attempted or imagined attempting, but I like who I am. Sometimes, I even pinch myself.

4. On the other hand, I have accomplished quite a bit in my life, and I have overcome enormous odds in order to do so. Also, if I’ve learned one thing in this life, I have learned that love is like a giant, magical well that can never be dipped into enough: the more we give, the more we have to give. Beautiful. If I were to die today, I would die an insanely and robustly happy person.

5. I hope to do and see a few more special things in my life before I do indeed kick the bucket, but, by and large, I don’t expect to leave this world with a bucket list of all things I’ve/I’d always wanted to do but never did.

6. Well, almost. You see, I do actually have a movie bucket list, that is, a list of movies I’d always meant to catch up with sooner or later, but that’s not really the same thing as wanting to see the Grand Canyon or Paris, or wanting to go skydiving, or eating live scorpions, or seeing the rainforest or whatever grand ambitions that are on many “normal” bucket lists.  Some of those things take lots of money and years of planning. A movie bucket list takes a little money (at a time), and some careful planning, but it’s not impossible.

As anyone who knows me, or has read this blog for the past year and a half, knows, I love movies, and I’ve seen more than I can even remember sometimes. When I was growing up, I used to catch the local late show as often as possible as well as many afternoon movies. As I recall, CBS–back when the local affiliate was channel 4–used to run movies during primetime on Friday nights; NBC followed suit on Saturdays, and ABC often premiered “new” movies on Sunday night. Again, I watched as often as I could though by the time CBS had the Mary Tyler Moore/Bob Newhart Saturday night line-up, I was pretty well fixed. When our own channel 11 was still an independent station, the weekly 9:00 (pm) movie was a staple. Indeed, I seem to recall that during the summer, Monday or Tuesday evenings were devoted to running The Thin Man series.  I saw lots and lots of movies like this: edited for length, content, and commercials, often in black and white (we were late to the color TV scene), but it was all good for me. PBS/KERA did its part as well by showing such classics as the 1930 version of  Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings, among, of course, a host of others.

Later, I caught up with even more classics thanks to cable stations such as Turner Classic Movies and American Movie Classics–well before the latter was cutting up movies for commercials and competing against the broadcast networks with original programming such as the Emmy winning Mad Men. Of course, buying my first VCR in 1986 was also a big boost. Some of the movies I was able to finally catch up with included a couple of Kim Stanley titles: The Goddess and Seance on a Wet Afternoon.

When I was a small child, my family (at least my brothers and sisters) often went to kiddie matinees on Saturday mornings as well as the drive-ins on Saturday nights (but not necessarily each and every week). By the time I was a teenager, our situation had changed, and going to the movies was a luxury. I’m not going to lie and say I NEVER went to a movie during my junior high and high school years, but the number of such outings was relatively slim though I do remember seeing Pat Boone in The Cross and the Switchblade, featuring a fresh-faced Erik Estrada. I was lucky that Richland College used to run a film series on Friday nights. I think the admission was free with a Richland ID (which I was not, not at that time), and $1.00 for civilians.  Good for me. That’s how I saw Lady Sings the Blues, Tommy, and The Magic Christian.  I’m sure I saw What’s Up, Doc? there also, though I had already seen it at the drive-in with some close family friends. When I visited my dad, he sometimes treated the bunch of us to the likes of Billy Jack, Big Bad Mama, and Million Dollar Duck (with, of course, Texas’s own Sandy Duncan). Additionally, I somehow managed to see Star Wars-with a still great friend–during the first week at the old NorthPark I & II. How I managed to swing that, I have long forgotten–I guess it helps that I had a job by then–though I know my mother dropped us off, and my sister picked us up later, and then we made a beeline to that old pizza place in Medallion center. What was the name of that place? Well,  good for me. Good times.

Even though I was not seeing many first run movies during that time, I was certainly still reading all about them in books, magazines, and newspapers. I learned a lot about film history, film criticism and, especially, the Academy awards, which was a bit of a trick because I tended to know everything about all the nominees often without ever having seen a single frame of footage other than televised clips on talk shows and commercials.

When I was 18, I was earning my own money and spending a bunch of it at the movies.  That was when I discovered the Granada theater on Lower Greenvile. At the time, it was a repertory house, operated, I recall, by a company called Movie Inc.  As I understand it, the company had previously set up shop as the Edison theater–I want to say on Fitzhugh–but that location was too small for the ever-increasing crowds, so the much bigger Granada, long abandoned as movie house, was a more suitable venue.  I visited the Granada regularly from 1979 till the theatre, in that incarnation, was shuttered in 1986.  I saw dozens, if not hundreds, of movies during that time, including  (in no particular order) The Devil’s Playground, The Ballad of Narayama, Bedazzled (the 1967 original with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore), If…, The Ruling Class, The Ritz, King of Hearts, Barbarella, Reefer Madness, Cocaine Fiends, Smile, Sleeper, Love and Death, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, A Clockwork Orange, Return of the Secaucus 7, Women in Love, The Stunt Man, The Great Dictator, Pier Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales, and oh so many, many, more. Of course, I saw Harold and Maude there scads of times, but I’d already seen it elsewhere (the old Promenade at Beltline & Coit) when Paramount re-released it to fill in a hole  during the 1978 holiday season; likewise, I saw Days of Heaven in its original theatrical engagement, but I went back to the Granada and saw it again whenever I had the chance, which was often. Ditto, say, My Brilliant Career, Coming Home, Diva, Girlfriends, All That Jazz,  and a few others that I had seen and loved during their original engagements.  Of course, I’d also seen The Wizard of Oz, The Red Shoes, Notorious, and Casablanca on TV–along with the aforementioned Thin Man movies–but I tried to catch them in all their big screen splendor anytime they appeared on the Granada’s schedule. Furthermore, seeing The Last Picture show at the Granada was quite a different experience than watching it on network TV I assure you. I even saw George Lucas’s THX-1138 long before he reappropriated the name for his THX sound process.

By the time I was 22, I was actually working at the movies, and I was in cinema heaven. For 22 years, I saw the best and worst of mainstream Hollywood as well as most major indie offerings, including big-screen re-releases of such classics as Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind, among others…and, yet, for all my devotion, I still have not seen every movie I would like to have seen.


The Man in the Glass Booth (above) and Hester Street are two 1975 releases that were on my Movie Bucket List for the longest time. I eventually saw both of them on videotape several years ago. Today, I happily own both on DVD. Both projects were considered unlikely at the time. Hester Street starred up-and-coming actress Carol Kane in a low-budget, black and white offering, partially performed in Yiddish, about Jewish immigrants in New York in the late 1800s; the film, directed by Joan Micklin Silver, is a 2011 National Film Registry inductee. The Man in the Glass Booth, directed by Arthur Hiller and adapted from Robert Shaw’s play, stars previous Oscar winner Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg, 1961)  in a startlingly visceral performance as a wealthy businessman on trial for Nazi war crimes although there is much more going on within the case than even the characters know how to fully process. The Man in the Glass Booth was part of Ely Landau’s ambitious American Film Theater subscription series, in which well-known plays were converted into actual low-budget motion pictures (rather than mere filmed versions of stage performances) featuring such high profile actors as Schell, Alan Bates (Butley), Katharine Hepburn (A Delicate Balance), Glenda Jackson (The Maids), Gene Wilder and  Zero Mostel (reunited in Rhinoceros), Lee Marvin and Jeff Bridges (both in The Iceman Cometh). Ticketing glitches plagued the series, and the plug was pulled after two years though not before Schell’s film played as a stand-alone feature in first-run theaters, thereby enhancing its Oscar potential.

That noted, Michael and I have been on a tear for the past several years now (first with VHS, now with DVD), so I’m pleased to say that I’m good to go regarding such rarities as Hester Street and The Man in the Glass Booth, both released in 1975, the former featuring an Oscar nominated performance by Carole Kane and the latter starring another Oscar nominated turn by Maximilian Schell. The titles of movies that are no longer on my bucket list also include Seven Beauties, Gate of Hell, Topkapi, Day of the Locust, Suspiria, Don’t Look Now, The Story of Adele H., Cries and Whispers, Carmen Jones, Putney Swope, Blood and Sand, Somewhere in Time, Portrait of Jennie, Phantom of the Paradise,  Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, Obsession, The Best of EverythingClaudine, This Island Earth, Bride of the Monster, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Sparkle (the 1976 original), Caprice (yep, the dreadful spy caper with Doris Day and Richard Harris..I had only the vaguest memory of it from childhood though I was well aware that it was a flop), The Quiet Man, Annie Get Your Gun (which had been officially out of circulation for several years), and a lot genre stuff from the 1960s and 1970s, including Soylent Green, which Michael had already  seen, natch, during its original run. For years, all I had seen was the late Phil Hartman’s righteous SNL parody.

Furthermore, thanks to Dr. Halperin’s Human Rights class at SMU, I’ve finally seen, for better, perhaps worse,  both Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will in addition to a great many other films from across the globe, either fictional or factual, that deal with the ongoing struggle for justice and human decency. Btw: Birth of a Nation is bewildering; Triumph of the Will is eye opening. Discuss.

The past year or so has been even more productive for Michael and me.  I’ve had deluxe editions of Giant (1956) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962) on my shelf for a few years, but who has 3 hours (or more) to watch a movie? Of course, these movies were both restored and re-released to theaters awhile ago, but I somehow missed them. I know I was on an extended leave of absence during the 1989 re-release of Lawrence of Arabia. We played it at the old UA, but I was out of town at the time and was simply unable to do much moviegoing. I’m sure the Giant re-release was in 1996, the 40 year anniversary, but I just wasn’t able to squeeze it into my schedule. Well, I’m all good now. Plus, neither film disappointed. Indeed, they actually exceeded my expectations.

Recently, we finally, finally, caught up with The Silent Partner, a nifty little  Canadian flick that garnered a lot of praise during its 1979 U.S. run.  The film stars Elliot Gould as a seemingly nebbish bank teller and Christopher Plummer as an especially ruthless bank robber. Oh, dear, what these two men do to each other.  I got a jolt with every twist and turn though I was laughing–mostly out of shock–at the outrageous climax.  The script is by Curtis Hanson, who would go on to win an Oscar for co-adapting 1997 Best Picture nominee L.A. Confidential (from the James Ellroy novel–and which Hanson also directed and was likewise nominated for); The Silent Partner, directed by the late Daryl Duke, won the top Canadian film prize–since rechristened the Genie award–back in the day. I read a lot about this movie at the time of its release. I saw the trailer on multiple occasions, and I’m sure it played in Dallas, but somehow I missed it. I’ll blame that on my roommate at the time. Now, it’s no longer on my movie bucket-list. That noted, the cover art for the DVD is just wrong. It completely misrepresents the movie and looks like a bad Tarantino rip-off.

It feels good scribbling/deleting these titles from my movie bucket list, but there are still quite a few more to go. Here is a small sampling. I’ve divided my Movie Bucket List into 5 categories: 1. Movies made before I was born; 2. Movies that were released during my junior high and high school years; 3. Movies that were released after high school but before I was working in the business; 4. Movies that I somehow missed during my 22 year stint in the biz; 5. Movies that have been released since I quit the business in November of 2004.

  1. Screen siren Hedy Lamarr in the Oscar winning drag designed for Samson and Delilah bv Edith Head and Dorothy Jeakins.

    Screen siren Hedy Lamarr in the Oscar winning drag designed for Samson and Delilah bv Edith Head, Dorothy Jeakins, Eloise Jensson, Gile Steele, and Gewn Wakeling.

    Samson and Delilah (1949) – Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic stars Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr as the title characters (respectively). It was reportedly the top earning film during the year in which it was released–going wide, including L.A, in early 1950–and though not nominated for top Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, etc.), it did well in the technical categories, nabbing trophies for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color) and Best Costume Design (Color); the team for the latter included the ever-popular Edith Head as well as the also great Dorothy Jeakins, who actually earned her place in the history books as the first designer to ever win in the costuming category–for 1948’s Joan of Arc.  Sorry, Edith. When I was growing up, we had a copy of Lamarr’s scandalous best-selling memoir, Ecstasy and Me. The title alludes to her 1933 Austrian breakthrough flick with its now tame skinny dipping sequence and simulated sex.  Lamarr was famously billed as the most beautiful woman in films, if not the most beautiful woman in the world, back in the day, and I was fascinated not only by her beauty but also her commentary on acting, her career, and general behind-the-scenes tidbits. I read and reread the book many, many times, but I’ll be frank: most of the sexy stuff went right over my head during those days, and good for me.  I was more interested in the glamorous stuff. At any rate, though I knew a lot about Lamarr, I was fully grown before I ever recall seeing any of her movies, with the possible exception being My Favorite Spy, co-starring Bob Hope. It is entirely possible that I saw Samson & Delilah during those wee years, but I can’t be certain. In early adulthood, I caught up with Algiers (1938) and Experiment Perilous (1944–my grandma’s favorite Lamarr pic, a distant cousin–thematically–to Ingrid Bergman’s Oscar winning Gaslight from the same year); regarding Algiers, it is famously noted for Boyer’s “Come with me to the Casbah” line though that is just more legendary movie lore than actual fact though the Casbah is part of the film.  More recently, I’ve crossed off such Lamarr titles as Comrade X (with Clark Gable) and The Heavenly Body (with William Powell). Still, I won’t feel like I’ve seen Hedy at her best until I see Samson and Delilah in all its Technicolor glory  even though Mature, by his own admission, was never much of an actor.  My issue now is just finding a suitable copy on DVD. Runner-up: The Nun’s Story (1959) – I know, I know. I love Audrey Hepburn, and I’ve long been a fan of  two time Oscar winning director Fred Zinneman (From Here to Eternity and A Man for All Seasons) ; moreover, I think I’ve seen just about all the famous nun movies from roughly the same era, including Black Narcissus and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (both starring Deborah Kerr), along with the The Sound of Music, of course, and The Singing Nun, starring Debbie Reynolds, but somehow I’ve never seen Hepburn in what is supposed to be one of her finest performances. The problem isn’t that the movie is rarely seen on TV or is unavailable on DVD. I’ve seen it at store more than once. No, it’s a matter of timing.  I just want everything to be perfect when I decide to sit down to watch it–I think Audrey and I both deserve that–and how often does that happen?

  2. The Smoking Nun: Glenda Jackson as a Nixonesque Mother Superior in Nasty Habits.

    The Smoking Nun: Glenda Jackson as a Nixonesque Mother Superior in Nasty Habits.

    Nasty Habits (1977) – Michael Lindsay-Hogg (Let it Be, Brideshead Revisited) adapts this Watergate parody from the novel The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie). In this case, the devilish real-life 1972 saga of corrupt politicians is (re)set in a Philadelphia convent with Glenda Jackson standing in for disgraced Richard Nixon and Sandy Dennis along as a John Dean-esque nun.  I have wanted to see this movie almost my whole life. I definitely remember wanting to see it when it opened in Dallas, but I guess the real Watergate was still too fresh, and the premise too odd, to generate much interest among my friends and family, so no Nasty Habits for me. As I recall, the reviews were mixed though the critics were generally kind to both Jackson and Dennis (who actually received a few raves). Keep in mind, as well, that at that time both Jackson and Dennis were Oscar winners. The former was a four time nominee and  two-time Best Actress honoree (Women in Love, 1970; A Touch of Class, 1973) while  Dennis was the recipient of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but they weren’t even the whole show, as the cast also included such talents as  Melina Mercouri (Oscar nominated for 1960’s Never on Sunday), Geraldine Page (a multiple Oscar nominee by that time, who would go on to win for 1985’s The Trip to Bountiful), Edith Evans (a three time Oscar nominee, then most recently for 1967’s The Whisperers, which should also be on my bucket list), and the great Anne Meara, who also appeared in the film with her husband and sometimes partner Jerry Stiller. I want to see these talented actresses sink their teeth into this dice-y material even if it doesn’t always work. I think it was checked-out the last time we visited our favorite video place–that, or it was only available on VHS. At any rate, it’s now officially on my Amazon wish list, and I hope to make a purchase soon though I believe it has been discontinued…for the moment. Runners-up: Brother Sun, Sister Moon AND Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams. The former is Franco Zeffirelli’s dramatization of the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Who doesn’t like St. Francis, right? Of course, I missed it during its original run; for awhile, it was often the Christmas feature at the old Granada theatre, but I missed it then too. Regarding Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, please consider this scenario: imagine, if you will, little ole me as an 8th grader in Garland, TX, circa 1973, oh so eager to see a character study of  a wealthy, middle-aged  New York City wife and mother, played by Joanne Woodward, grappling with the choices she has made in her life. Yeah.  That was really going to happen. Nonetheless, Woodward scored an Oscar nod (the third of four, including her win for 1957’s The Three Faces of Eve) as did the one and only Sylvia Sidney as Woodward’s mother.  Can this movie really live up to my expectations, or will it seem horribly dated as a product of the ’70s? Trivia note: SW, WD was directed by Gilbert Cates, who would go on to great success as the longtime producer of the annual Oscar telecast, bringing Billy Crystal with him as host in the process.

  3. Last Embrace (1979) –  Like The Silent Partner, I missed this flick when it was first released. At that time, I had only a vague idea about director Jonathan Demme. I’d heard about his Citizens Band, later retitled Handle with Care, back during the peak of the CB radio craze, but that was about it.  It took awhile, but the one-two punch of Something Wild and Married to the Mob led to Demme’s blockbuster breakthrough: The Silence of the Lambs. After that, Demme’s earlier work became ripe for revisiting. Additionally, at the time of The Last Embrace, I also recognized star Roy Scheider  from Jaws, of course, as well as his Oscar nominated turn in 1971’s The French Connection (not to mention Klute from the same year) as well as Sorcerer (a remake of The Wages of Fear directed by The French Connection‘s William Friedkin); however, I didn’t become a true Scheider fan until  I pretty much fell in love with him as Bob Fossee’s alter-ego “Joe Gideon” in All that Jazz.  Oh, if I had only known. Also, like The Silent PartnerLast Embrace was labelled “Hitchcockian” by some of the critics, which I considered blasphemous at the time; even today, the term can be dicey. I guess I started thinking about the movie again–after all these years–when Scheider passed away. So far, we have not found it in stock at our favorite video store.
  4. Still of the Night (1982) –  Scheider, again. This 1982 thriller was directed and co-written by Robert Benton, fresh from his triumph with Kramer vs. Kramer, while Scheider was obviously still basking in the warmth of his glowing reviews from All that Jazz, which, of course, had competed against Kramer vs. Kramer for the 1979/80 Best Picture Oscar (and other categories). Scheider’s Still of the Night co-star was the one and only Meryl Streep who, of course, won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Benton’s Kramer vs. Kramer and who had just recently earned her first Best Actress nod for playing dual roles in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.  Originally, this thriller, released November of ’82, was entitled Stab, which I actually liked in the abstract. Still of the Night seems so pedestrian.  Anyway, Scheider plays a psychiatrist, and Streep plays a woman who may very well be a psycho-killer. Again, I think the key word at the time was “Hitchcockian,” though the reviews were generally negative–perhaps especially for Streep, who  seemed pretty well infallible at that point in her career. I was all about the talent involved in this movie at the time, but the gosh-awful reviews gave me pause; however, it was only a month or so later that Sophie’s Choice was released, and the rest is history. Streep’s performance as a Holocaust survivor earned rapturous reviews, netted her yet another Oscar–her first as Best Actress–and Still of the Night was promptly forgotten–except by me. I always wish I had seen it when I had the chance even with the crummy reviews. About a year or so ago, I was flipping through the TV channels late one night just in time to see it right from the very beginning, but, regrettably, I fell asleep about 20 or 30 minutes into it, so that’s that. I never stop to think about it when I’m in the video store, however.   Runner-up:  A Day without a Mexican (2004). I was still working at the movie theatre when this indie social satire was released with little or no ado; however, its stature has grown since then. At least one professor at the college where I work regularly has his students write essays about it, and so that piques my curiosity even more. I actually had the DVD in my hand as I walked to the check-out register when I was spending a gift card at my local video store over the weekend, but at the last minute, I saw another title that I wanted even more, and, to quote Linda Ellerbee, so it goes. I expect this to happen soon.
  5. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) –  Tommy Lee Jones garnered Best Actor honors at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival for this film, which he also directed. The screenplay is by Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams), who also earned a prize at Cannes.  I do remember when it played in Dallas, but in spite of my every intention to catch it in theaters, I missed at every chance. It happens.  Though well reviewed, and in spite of the Cannes hoopla, Jones and his movie were shut out of the subsequent Oscar race, and that seemed to be that. I won’t say I forgot about the movie, exactly, but I will say that my curiosity was aroused once again awhile later when one of my best friends told me it was a “must-see.” So, now, here it is on my Movie Bucket List. I  have no almost no idea what the movie is about except I’ve read that there are a few unexpected curves, and I want to be surprised by each and every one of them, so I’ve made it a mission to learn as little about the whole thing as possible. I do know that Jones has lined-up a swell supporting cast that includes Dwight Yoakam, Barry Pepper, and the late Levon Helm. Additionally, in 2005, actresses Melissa Leo and January Jones were hardly household names; however, Leo is now an Oscar winner (Best Supporting Actress for 2010’s The Fighter), and Jones is one of the stars of the popular–and oft imitated–Mad Men TV series, which means that there are now two more good reasons to see The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.  Now that Tommy Lee Jones is a likely Best Supporting Actor Oscar contender  for Lincoln, my goal is to see this movie before the Academy awards. Runner-up: Snow Angels – Before Richardson’s own David Gordon Green became famous for the hugely successful  stoner bromance The Pineapple Express, he was an indie-darling, often earning encouraging notices for such sensitive low-budget, if little seen, offerings as George Washington and All the Real Girls (the latter of which I liked quite a bit). I read nothing but wonderful things about 2007’s Snow Angels, starring Kate Beckinsale along Sam Rockwell, Griffin Dunne, and Amy Sedaris, but I missed it when it came to town–which was a first for me with a DGG film. I think about it often–usually five minutes after I left the video place with another movie.

Okay, so those are the highlights of my movie bucket list. Believe it or not, there are probably a few titles that are not on my list that probably should be, and it would no doubt be a big surprise to discover what they are, but what I’m really interested in is learning what titles are on your own Movie Bucket List?

Thanks for your consideration…