Saturday, March 01, 2014

Oscar 2013: Predictions, Preferences



All feature-film categories now complete!

Look how distressed Sandra Bullock is, trying to glance into her crystal ball, straining to quantify how many Oscars her movie Gravity will win tomorrow.  I'm sporting the same look on my face as I publicly prognosticate winners for the first time since Jennifer Lawrence was in the Brownies.  But why not take a stab at it?  I've been spouting off on every other angle of the Academy Awards this year: diagnosing the narrowing field of "top" competitors for The Advocate; debunking popular myths about the Oscars and their biases in The Washington Post; and discussing some favorites among this year's nominees and some formative Oscar moments with Der Spiegel, though if Sie kein Deutsche sprechen, you won't be able to read it.  What I have not done anywhere, in any language, is forecast who is winning or fess up to my own choices.  So many of my favorite people are sticking their necks out.  So, as Charles Busch belts out in Die, Mommie, Die! - widely regarded as a near-miss for a Best Picture nod in 2003 - "Why not me?"

Best Visual Effects
Gravity will stomp all over its competitors, making it the sixth Best Picture nominee in a row to cop the prize (after Benjamin Button, Avatar, Inception, Hugo, and Life of Pi, just so you don't have to look it up).  You may take this streak as proof of the Academy's growth over the years—since even within my lifetime as an Oscar queen "effects movies" were often persona non grata in Best Picture—or all you may see is an industry increasingly compelled toward digital extravaganzas. Either way, Gravity would probably mop the floor even with the five past winners I just named, much less with the competitors it has to vanquish here... which in a way is too bad, because there's a lot to say for the invigorating spectacles and sleek execution of several sequences in Star Trek and Iron Man 3.  I was less taken with the effects work in The Lone Ranger (yes, even as regards that train crash), and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was one of a handful of Oscar nominees I missed in theaters. Will: Gravity  Should: Gravity  Hey, Where's The Great Gatsby, which owes the bulk of its locations, color schemes, camera movements, and memorably debauched extras to digital intervention

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
From an impressively strong field we slide over to an annoyingly weak one. Dallas Buyers Club will probably win on default, since voters tend to gravitate to Best Picture nominees unless there's a stirring reason not to.  Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is many things, but not that.  (Actually, Bad Grandpa on its best day is only a couple of things, which disappointed me, since I thought the first Jackass movie was a hoot.  Especially seeing it in a Detroit shopping mall, with people flashing laser sights on the screen midfilm.)  The Lone Ranger has the more-is-more thing nailed down, and a lot of graphically arresting cosmetics have been lovingly applied to actors like Barry Pepper and Helena Bonham Carter.  Still, AMPAS has recently rejected some ostentatious contenders who would have been shoo-ins in the Rick Baker era (The Time Machine, Norbit, Hellboy II) when a more broadly admired film presents itself as an option (Frida, La Vie en rose, and Benjamin Button in those cases).  I think it might have been nice if more of the Buyers Club's subscribers had looked visibly ill.  I would love to see a bruising throwdown between those who insist that Johnny Depp's bird-stapled-to-his-head "Native American" is the year's most horrifying faux-archetype and those who proffer Jared Leto's eyebrowless transwoman for the same distinction.  But failing that battle, and following the canny publicizing of Dallas's breathtakingly low budget, Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews ought to get own their chance to say "All right, all right, all right!" or possibly even speak about Neptune. Will: Dallas Buyers Club  Should: Lone Ranger  Hey, Where's American Hustle, obviously, but also the lightly greyed hair of Llewyn Davis and the wax-museum quality of so many of his acquaintances.  Also, Cate Blanchett's Park Avenue blonde tresses in Blue Jasmine, which are turning into dark roots before her eyes, or ours at least.

Best Supporting Actor
On the subject of Dallas Buyers Club, I thought the movie was fantastic and Jared Leto pretty good the first time I saw them.  Upon revisiting a week or so ago, Dallas betrayed more stress marks, and Leto—by now vaulted from Casting Stunt That Paid Off to Prohibitive Favorite for the Oscar—still seems ...pretty good, without quite explaining what Rayon's doing in this script.  There are some pearl-clutching gestures and other frou-fra in the performance that make it seem stale, conceived more for an audience than from a character who's been built feet up, as they say in American Hustle.  And speaking of Hustle, Bradley Cooper has a large enough part in that movie that he's drawn fire for being a lead falsely slumming in this category.  Yet there are lots of ways to confront the question of who's really "supporting" in a film.  Leto's scenes are more limited, but every single one is handed to the character to be charismatic, or tragic, or funny, or all three, just like Angelina Jolie's and Jennifer Hudson's scenes were in their Oscar-winning vehicles. The movie arguably supports him more than the reverse. Cooper is on screen bunches but, like most of his Hustle castmates, acts an over-the-top character in a strong way and still doesn't seem like he's showboating, or depriving his co-stars of the cues they need to enrich their work.  He and Abdi are the Bests in Show in their movies without ever looking like they realize it.  Fassbender, like Leto, is cleverly playing a thesis that's been posited in the script in place of a real character: in one case, the AIDS patient with a wavering commitment to living, in the other, a slave-owner as one-man multiplex of grimy perversions.  Hill is ...uh, very good in 21 Jump Street and Moneyball.  I have no idea who he's playing in Wolf of Wall Street, no matter how hard he's working to keep the badminton birdie from landing. Will: Leto  Should: Cooper  Hey, Where's James Gandolfini, who didn't need an iota of gratuitous sentiment to merit a nod for his middle-aged romantic, so tentative yet brave, so relaxed yet staunchly principled.  Plus the usual surfeit of guys who got no promotion (Ben Mendelsohn in Place Beyond the Pines, David Oyelowo in The Butler) or who indulged in the sin of acting in non-American films (Yiftach Klein in Fill the Void, Peter Kazungu in Paradise: Love).

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar Nomination Predictions 2013

I'm demented with fever and fatigue, so forgive the lack of commentary, but here are my best guesses and, in some cases, my willfully reckless counter-intuitions regarding tomorrow's Oscar nominations:

Picture: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, The Wolf of Wall Street
runners-up: Philomena, Her

Director: Coens (Llewyn), Cuaron (Gravity), Greengrass (Captain), McQueen (12 Years), Russell (Hustle)
runners-up: Payne, Scorsese, Vallée, Jonze

Actress: Adams (Hustle), Blanchett (Jasmine), Bullock (Gravity), Dench (Philomena), Thompson (Banks)
runners-up: Streep, Exarchopoulos
toyed with: dropping Bullock for Streep, but couldn't commit

Actor: Dern (Nebraska), DiCaprio (Wolf), Ejiofor (12 Years), Isaac (Llewyn), McConaughey (Dallas)
runners-up: Hanks, Redford
toyed with: being less optimistic about Isaac, but I can't help it
how 'bout that: Bale (Hustle)

Supporting Actress: Hawkins (Jasmine), Lawrence (Hustle), Nyong'o (12 Years), Squibb (Nebraska), Winfrey (Butler)
runners-up: Roberts

Supporting Actor: Abdi (Captain), Brühl (Rush), Cooper (Hustle), Fassbender (12 Years), Leto (Dallas)
runners-up: Gandolfini, Hill, Forte
toyed with: promoting my beloved Gandolfini, but I don't want to jinx it

Original Screenplay: American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska
runners-up: Blue Jasmine, Enough Said

Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave, Before Midnight, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Captain Phillips, Philomena
runners-up: August: Osage County, The Wolf of Wall Street

Foreign Film: The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), The Grandmaster (Hong Kong), The Great Beauty (Italy), The Hunt (Denmark), Omar (Palestine)
runners-up: The Notebook, Two Lives, The Missing Picture, Iron Picker

Animated Feature: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, Frozen, The Wind Rises
runners-up: Monsters University

Documentary: Blackfish, Dirty Wars, God Loves Uganda, The Square, Stories We Tell
runners-up: Which Way..., The Act of Killing, 20 Feet from Stardom, Tim's Vermeer
how 'bout that: Cutie and the Boxer

Cinematography: 12 Years a Slave !!!, The Grandmaster, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Prisoners
runners-up: Nebraska, The Great Beauty, Captain Phillips, The Great Gatsby

Film Editing: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Rush, The Wolf of Wall Street
runners-up: 12 Years a Slave
toyed with: including the obvious front-runner, but I suspect Slave will stumble in a few races
how 'bout that: Dallas Buyers Club

Production Design: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
runners-up: The Invisible Woman, The Grandmaster, Inside Llewyn Davis
how 'bout that: Her

Costume Design: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Woman, Saving Mr. Banks
runners-up: The Lone Ranger, The Grandmaster, The Great Beauty, Inside Llewyn Davis

Makeup & Hairstyling: American Hustle !!!, Dallas Buyers Club, The Lone Ranger
runners-up: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Great Gatsby

Original Score: 12 Years a Slave, All Is Lost, The Book Thief, Gravity, Saving Mr. Banks
runners-up: Captain Phillips, Philomena, The Great Gatsby, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
how 'bout that: Her

Original Song: "Let It Go" (Frozen), "The Moon Song" (Her), "Ordinary Love" (Mandela), "So You Know What It's Like" (Short Term 12), "Young and Beautiful" (Gatsby)
runners-up: "Amen" (All Is Lost), "In the Middle of the Night" (Butler), "Sweeter Than Fiction" (One Chance), "Last Mile Home" (Osage), "My Lord Sunshine (Sunrise)" (12 Years), "Atlas" (Hunger Games), "Stay Alive" (Mitty), "Rise Up" (Epic)
how 'bout that: "Alone Yet Not Alone" (Alone), "Happy" (Despicable)

Sound Mixing: 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Rush
runners-up: Frozen, Inside Llewyn Davis, All Is Lost, World War Z, The Wolf of Wall Street, Iron Man 3, The Hobbit
how 'bout that: Lone Survivor

Sound Editing: All is Lost, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Lone Survivor, Rush
runners-up: World War Z, Iron Man 3, The Hobbit, 12 Years a Slave, The Great Gatsby

Visual Effects: Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim, Star Trek Into Darkness
runners-up: The Lone Ranger, Oblivion, World War Z

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My "Team Experience Awards" Ballot

The Oscar nominations drop this Thursday morning, and people are almost as excited about those as they are about the Team Experience Awards, for which all the regular contributors to Nathaniel R's cinephiliac smorgasbord The Film Experience have been polled for their ranked favorites in 18 categories. The industrious and debonair Amir Soltani, whose tastes I can never pigeonhole and whose recommendations I always take seriously, has crunched all the numbers into a winner's list, which ought to go live on Tuesday night. But we've also been invited (read: encouraged) to post our individual ballots on our own sites.

I'm sort of going to do that. Bear in mind what many of you will already know: awards ballots are often unreliable as pure indicators of a voter's taste, distorted either by lingering indecisions, bothersome omissions in viewing, or a tactic of suppressing total outliers in favor of promoting your favorite underdogs among more probable contenders. I suppressed my urge to vote the latter way, even when a Best Picture vote for Southwest is a strategic waste that a Bling Ring or Touch of Sin might have parlayed to better advantage. Still, I'm noodling a bit with my finalized acting ballots and with my actual Top Ten of 2013 (though maybe you noticed that Top Tens for 2012 are now posted??).  So, in those cases and a couple others I have decided to post my drafted longlists of contenders, keeping you in slightly longer suspense about my definitive favorites.

I'm under contract to post a series of Best of 2013 features for another site, so I can't get lost in my usual wormhole of unfulfilled promises, if that's any consolation. None of this is to say that I'm perfectly confident I didn't blow something major in one of the other categories. In fact, I'm sure I'd have generated different rankings and even different films on different days. But this is more or less what I submitted, culled from the best lists I could find of films that opened commercially in the U.S. during 2013. Thanks to Amir for some clarifications as far as release dates, and to Mike D'Angelo for his wonderfully comprehensive index of movies that played commercially in New York City.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. At Berkeley
2. The Act of Killing
3. The Missing Picture
4. Brave Miss World
5. Leviathan
(with apologies to close sixth-placer Let the Fire Burn)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
1. Gravity
2. The Great Gatsby
3. World War Z
4. Post Tenebras Lux
5. Man of Steel
(with Oblivion the only other film I seriously weighed)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
(an alphabetical longlist)
-. Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
-. F. Murray Abraham, Inside Llewyn Davis
-. Alec Baldwin, Blue Jasmine
-. Alfredo Castro, No
-. David Dastmalchian, Prisoners
-. James Franco, Spring Breakers
-. James Gandolfini, Enough Said
-. Sean Gilder, The Selfish Giant
-. John Henshaw, The Angels' Share
-. Peter Kazungu, Paradise: Love
-. Stacy Keach, Nebraska
-. Yiftach Klein, Fill the Void
-. Fran Kranz, Much Ado About Nothing
-. Lance LeGault, Prince Avalanche
-. Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
-. Joseph Lorenz, Paradise: Hope
-. Louis CK, American Hustle
-. Ben Mendelsohn, The Place Beyond the Pines
-. David Oyelowo, Lee Daniels' The Butler
-. Gary Skjoldmose Porter, A Hijacking
-. Keith Stanfield, Short Term 12

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Live-Blogging the 2013 Golden Globes

10:00 Good night, everybody!  Fey and Poehler called their ceremony "the beautiful mess they hoped it would be."  It didn't feel that beautiful to me, and I'm curious if it's quite what they wanted; they sure do make themselves scarce as the ceremonies wear on.  On top of what I just wrote, I'm most happy for Alfonso Cuarón, Spike Jonze, Amy Adams, and the Frozen filmmakers. And, sight unseen, for Cranston, Wright, Moss, and Poehler.

9:59 A barely-awake Johnny Depp did what needed to be done and bestowed upon 12 Years a Slave its rightful prize.  I know I just said how much I love another nominee and how much I like a third one (Philomena and Rush feel like non-entities, especially the latter, and not only in awards terms.) Still, Slave feels to me like their unambiguous superior, even if you're treating creative achievement separately from thematic and contextual importance.  I'm delighted for the team who got to accept the top prize, and thank goodness for Onstage MVP Sarah Paulson, feeding a nervous McQueen some necessary names, particularly Sean Bobbitt's and Dede Gardner's.

But I mentioned Atonement before, and as befell that so-called front-runner after the Globes, I'm worried that 12 Years comes out of the evening feeling like a loser even though it won.  Oh, well. Makes the Oscar predicting game more interesting, I guess!  And the prize will still sit on the right mantel.

9:56  BEST PICTURE (DRAMA)
I'm Rooting For: 12 Years a Slave, but Gravity is nearly as superb. Captain Phillips, while not on the same level as those two, is an easy contender to feel good about.
I'm Predicting: 12 Years a Slave, in an Atonement-esque situation of taking the top prize even after looking quite weak all night.

9:53 Anyway (sorry, for the see-sawing), I really liked Dallas Buyers Club and haven't felt too persuaded by any of the recent takedowns and ideological critiques of its standpoint and historical revisionism.  But McConaughey and Leto have made it harder tonight to feel settled in my affection for the film, through their discomfiting representations of the movie and of themselves. Again, they weren't awful, exactly. But they whiffed on the opportunity to be more ambassadorial for the film, or to reassure anyone who feels uneasy with their involvements and perspectives, or the politics of the film. Didn't help that neither said "AIDS," "HIV," or anything less euphemistic than "all the Rayons"; I'm sure they spoke from the heart, but they seemed a little trapped in the kinds of cautious euphemisms and silences that their characters explicitly suffered under.

9:52 Okay, so Blanchett.  I mean, don't get me wrong, she was totally poised and everything, and took inspiration from the HFPA and blended Comedy and Drama in a barely distinguishable combo.  That was cool, but also made me a little dizzy; I might have preferred a speech that was more obviously silly or sincere.  Anyway, it was definitely a post-vodka, late-in-the-evening toss-off.  We have more to look forward to from future speeches.  But she did say that Dianne Wiest was her all-time inspiration as an actress, and that is Everything.  Please, newspaper editors, make that your headline.

9:50 Matthew McConaughey's speech isn't landing that well, partly because of McConaughey'isms, and partly because he's pitching it a little too hard.  And he's sounding a little... unreconstructed.  The 12 Years a Slave table is having an awfully hard time not looking dismayed by their total shutout so far.

9:48 BEST ACTOR (DRAMA)
I'm Rooting For: McConaughey, but much like Wilson Phillips, you won't see me cry (cry... cry...) if Ejiofor or maybe Redford pops up there.
I'm Predicting: And I'm thinking Redford might. I was thinking that even before 12 Years started striking out all night.

9:46 Cate extemporizes quite well. Pretty well.  Honestly, it gets a little weird at times.  But hold on, before I can say more.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Anticipations of NicksFlickPicks

Every January, I re-invest in two myths, no matter how often they've been disproved.  First, someone reports that Lauryn Hill's eternally-postponed CD is finally coming out in the new year, and I believe it. Second, I truly think I will update my site more often, write more reviews, resolve unfinished projects, or at least keep up with annual features.  Usually I'm at least reliable to post a Fall Preview in September or early October, with a ranked list of the movies I'm most anticipating, divided into echelons furnished to me by some favorite pop star: Janet Jackson in 2012, when Holy Motors was a "Throb" and Atlas Shrugged a "Black Cat"; Mariah Carey in 2011, when We Need To Talk About Kevin was a "Touch My Body" and Jack & Jill was an "Up Out My Face"; and noted in-cinema texter Madonna in 2010, when White Material was "Erotica" for me and The Owls of Ga'Hoole prompted shouts of "Rescue Me."

I badly missed my start time this year: I've been too busy teaching, advising, bungling other important site features, and hitting every film festival in North America, to a degree that even the programmers find remarkable.  But late is better than never, as I can only hope Lauryn agrees. So, here goes.  I've of course already seen several of these titles, but I did a handy System Restore on my own brain and remembered how I felt Before as well as how I responded After...


TO ZION
Gravity - Even small steps for Cuarón are often giant leaps for popular cinema
A– - Sure, the emotional allegory feels kind of shoehoOH MY GOD! THE CAMERA! Maybe a bit maudJESUS! DID YOU SEE AND HEAR THAT?!
12 Years a Slave - Hollywood finally taps major vein of U.S. lit and life. McQueen!
A - Solomon as open book and opaque protagonist, caught in a heightened nightmare and in yes-it-was-that-bad history.
Bastards - Even at her most opaque, Denis commands loyalty like few other auteurs
B+ - Sort of Denis' Skin I Live In, a handsome, tensile take on a story bound to repel. Semi-illuminating, fiercely confident.
Blue Is the Warmest Color - Eager for any Kechiche, but especially a Palme winner
B - Two very compelling characterizations in engaging but oddly proportioned film with few interesting images
Faust - Two-year delay of release augurs poorly. But I'm still a Sokurov devotee.
A– - Intoxicating, even if, like a lot of intoxicants, it puts you to sleep a little. Painterly, imaginative, and sells the myth.
Her - Sure, premise could tilt into precious self-pity, but I have confidence it won't.
B - Toggles between blunt and subtle approaches to its themes. Generous in spirit. Actors really lift it. Adams a standout for me.
The Past - After Elly, Separation, I'd follow Farhadi anywhere. Breakout for Bejo?
C - Turgid, sporadically wise wallow in exposition, with few stakes for viewers. Stale visuals. Farhadi's rhythmic gift fails.

SUPERSTAR
American Hustle - I'm cool on Silver Linings but so far I dig this one's splashy vibe
B - American cons, America as con. Film's a con at times, though Cooper, Adams never are. Uneven, for better and worse.
The Square - Urgent topic for documentaries, especially from reliable Noujaim
At Berkeley - I'm not a Wiseman completist, but great subject for him and for me
A - Prodigious in every sense. Typically lucid institutional survey, comprising many views of what ideas and politics mean.
Inside Llewyn Davis - Tuneful blend of Coens' comic charm and scabrousness?
B+ - Aloof, icy, yet almost secretly tender. Steel, sadness, and spook knitted together. Funny-ish. Isaac amazes.
Captain Phillips - Even "lesser" Greengrass like Green Zone lands well with me
B - US drama of Somali pirates, rendered as seasick immersion in a military precision strike. Uneven but ends strong.
Blue Caprice - Shootings sure got to me in '02. Tour-de-force for a new director?
B+ - Backstory of 10 murders that remain inexplicable. A grotty national and psychological moodpiece. Bracingly assembled.
Carrie - Peirce a great choice to give high school rough textures, moral complexity
C– - Halves of Carrie seem further apart than ever. Direction most invested in the Mom, production in the Prom. Ensemble flails.
Mother of George - In Notting Hill, I'd be Hugh and d.p. Bradford Young my Julia
B+ - Lustrous images heighten emotions of a rich, bold script; odd angles, sound mix keep it from feeling on-the-nose.
Dallas Buyers Club - Felt stunty on paper but trailer and buzz for Leto encourage
B+ - Moving, funny, excitingly angry. McConaughey hits Brockovich levels of typecasting, type-busting, and charisma.
Fire in the Blood - Doc sounds very probing; a good companion to Dallas Buyers
A Touch of Sin - Jia always merits attention. Intriguing swerves in tone, content.
B+ - Hard work, which I'm not against. Sharp images, knotty plotting both entice. A Chinese Amores perros, but glassier.

JUST WANT YOU AROUND
August: Osage County - Uneven play has high peaks. Eager for Roberts, Lewis.
C - Enjoyable but rarely admirable beyond MVP actors. Script has great moments but smug calculations still rankle.
American Promise - I hope it's more Love & Diane than Waiting for Superman
B - Affecting, but director-parents may not have distance necessary to make a Hoop Dreams about their kids' schooling.
Let the Fire Burn - Crucial but obscure U.S. tale has already inspired good films
B - Less penetrating or contextualized but possibly more harrowing than other films on 1985 bombing of MOVE compound.
Museum Hours - Not on my radar till many friends ranked it among year's best
B - Elegant, involving, aloof by design; strong sense of the past within the present. Something a tad calculated about it.
God Loves Uganda - Another promising doc; bookend to spring's Call Me Kuchu
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete - Buzzy at Sundance. New sides of Hudson?
C - Fitfully affecting but rarely adroit. Soderbergh's King of the Hill from synthetic fabric.
Enough Said - I'm still seeking a Holofcener vehicle that's as strong as her debut
B– - After ace debut, Holofcener's follow-ups all have execution problems. Still, rich ideas for starved demos. Gandolfini!
We Are What We Are - Notably strong reviews for a horror film and for a remake
Saving Mr. Banks - For Emma, I'll accept anything, even from John Lee Hancock
D+ -  Markedly unsubtle for an explicit defense of subtlety. Broad, repetitive, untrusting. Nails a moving end, though.
The Invisible Woman - Wasn't too jazzed till every review cited a pleasant surprise
Camille Claudel 1915 - I tend to like Dumont, even if I always feel guilty about it
D+ - Never connects with Camille. Casting stunt sullies and disjoints the film. Alienating; next day, feels worse.
Computer Chess - Beeswax was incomparably winning. Will I react that way again?
B– - Seemed funnier during my first, more fatigued screening. A great premise with gold moments, but execution is muddy.
Wadjda - Dramas with Noble Themes can break any which way, but I'm optimistic.
Prisoners - Sharp-looking Villeneuve pic drew both hoots and cheers in Toronto
B– - Lots of craft on display. Gutsy script. Real steel from Jackman. Virtually all of it poisoned by escalating absurdities.
Black Nativity - Trailer looks a bit off to me. Still: Lemmons? That cast? Sure.
C– - Earnest but perfunctory. Reads as if producer TD Jakes literally called more shots than snazzy helmer Kasi Lemmons..
Concussion - Nifty premise for lesbian drama. Weigert in lead is a cool prospect.
B– - Story, chic images feel affected throughout, which only makes sharp script and Weigert's candid acting more impressive.
After Tiller - Risk-taking profile of doctors who offer third-trimester abortions
Touchy Feely - Things got awfully quiet after Sundance, but ensemble entices
Here Comes the Devil - Just read the setup and tell me you're not a bit intrigued

LOST ONES
The Immigrant - Every still looks transfixing, but the Weinsteins seem ambivalent
B+ - Operatic conception, playing romantic hope against inexorable forces of grief and myth. Cotillard, Khondji astonish.
Foxcatcher - Such an odd tale, but you won't catch me betting against Miller
Grace of Monaco - I liked La Vie en rose but let's kindly call Dahan a big variable
The Monuments Men - Your $11 can help these rich pals take a European vacay!

I FIND IT HARD TO SAY
All Is Lost - Sounds like awards-baiting stunt for Redford, yet I hear otherwise
B+ - Water, water everywhere, and not a bad or boring shot in sight. Exercisey but absorbing. Boy is Redford in good shape.
Out of the Furnace - For those who wish Crazy Heart had featured more hitting
C - Winter's Boner: characters, filmmakers treat grotty vision of rough, hophead Appalachia as macho proving-ground.
Adore - A good movie seems too much to ask, but possibly deliciously bad?
D+ - Unquestionably misdirected, stifling scenario's capacity to indicate more than tawdry melodrama. Wright saves what she can.
Oldboy - I found Park's film both tedious and repellent, but at least I'm curious
Kill Your Darlings - Seems likely to glorify yet render dull a minor anecdote
D+ - Early sparks gutter completely. Climactic montage ties anal sex to drug injection and murder. Opaque and inert.
The Face of Love - Bening's lowest-profile work in years. Harris a good match?
Philomena - Festival audiences sure love it. Dench inspires hope. Frears doesn't.
C+ - Pro or con to keep mixing tones and to avoid overstating analogies at the cost of vague, fitful storytelling? Your call.
As I Lay Dying - It's my favorite novel, maybe. I think I just don't want to know.
The Summit - Climbing docs have gone wrong before. Still, a whopper of a tale.
Great Expectations - A year after its debut, smelling like moldy wedding cake.
The Pervert's Guide to Ideology - Little Žižek goes a long way. Maybe too long.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - Evidently even Elba, Harris can't animate it?
Lone Survivor - Late add to season. Beefy cast. Berg a mixed bag. Trustworthy?
C+ - Actors very committed; moving as soldier tribute. Still, Berg wobbly director of action, dialogue. Ending feels off.
All Is Bright - Director Phil Junebug Morrison is only draw here. But a big one.
Machete Kills - Good, bad, or good/bad? Hoping for a Planet Terror groove.
A.C.O.D. - Love the topic, but maybe just charming comedians farting around?
Metallica: Through the Never - Good or bad, I can't even work out what this is
Insidious: Chapter 2 - Never got it up to rent the first, but ample for a rainy day
Dracula 3D - Even with tepid reviews, dashing Kretschmann is hard to resist
C - Two D's are for Dumb and Dumber. The other's for Delirium, which at least has its pleasures. Garishly but gamely stupid.
Escape from Tomorrow - Trailer has some kick, but strains hard for cult status
Nebraska - Hated Descendants. Not that wild about earlier Payne, either. So...
D+ - Payne still loves: banal images, banal music, using one character as bellwether of Reason and ranking others in relation.
Sal - Film-star bio from the Franco factory that's sat around for two years? Sure!
Mr. Nobody - A Venice prize-winner that's sat around for four years? Why not?
Inequality for All - These films vary widely in quality but Reich's a good hook
The Best Man Holiday - Statute of limitations on credit for Undercover Brother?
Instructions Not Included - I lamely keep skipping Spanish-language breakouts

I USED TO LOVE HIM
About Time - Gleeson's my hope. Curtis, McAdams have exhausted good will.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - The title begs non-converts to stay home.
The Wolf of Wall Street - Is latter-day Scorsese right guy to critique wild excess?
D+ - One-hand tally of interesting shots. Wonky edits abound. Flatly plotted in story and style. Elephantiasis.
Labor Day - I hear it's safe for Kate, risky for Reitman, triumphant for neither
Finding Mr. Right - I'd go anywhere with Tang Wei after Lust, Caution. I think?
Diana - Can we now agree that Watts has Swank-ish range and batting average?
The Armstrong Lie - Gibney should slow down. Armstrong should hide in a hole.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - Anyone else getting a big Majestic hit off this?
Don Jon - I'm glad Juli & Scarlett get along with Gordon-Levitt. I usually don't.
B– - Flat technique; hashed final act seems more annoying with time. But funny. Moore is good, and Johansson deliciously great.
Out in the Dark - Gay cinema can't cast enough bland hotties in familiar plots
C - Scene by scene, the Serious Drama you'd expect about a handsome Palestinian guy and a handsome Israeli guy in love.
Rush - Feels like an aging producer-director pair's idea of Youthful Excitement
D+ - Tritely conceived, stylistically ragged. A dispiriting pile-up of shots and entire scenes that only pad or coarsen the movie.
Salinger - At last! A venue for John Cusack's ideas about The Catcher in the Rye!
Runner Runner - Excited me for six minutes as IMDb news item. Never since.

NOTHING REALLY MATTERS
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Director's a trade up. Still not persuaded.
C– - Talk about death that never feels deadly and whispers of revolution that never feel revolutionary.
The Counselor - Sorta thing that seduces stars on paper, then explodes on them
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues - Not if I missed the first part, it doesn't
Ender's Game - The only things I'm boycotting are iffy casting, awful preview
Winnie Mandela - Virtually laughed out of existence two years ago. A zombie.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa - Uninspiring, but I never count this crew out.
Homefront - Franco in a Statham film written by Stallone? Is this an installation?
The Fifth Estate - Wan thrillers keen on trumpeting their Importance are the pits
The Family - Best show in town is watching Tommy Lee Jones hide involvement
Shepard and Dark - So there's this famous guy and this less famous guy, and... ?
Baggage Claim - As a title, that's a half-notch above Sack Lunch, but not funny.
Frozen - Disney hasn't hit for me since Lilo. Images and cast list leave me cold.
B - Charm, belly laughs, sweetness, and story momentum. Songs, character designs, backgrounds not on same level, but I liked it.
Thor: The Dark World - I'm even less interested than Natalie Portman seems to be.

WHEN IT HURTS SO BAD
One Chance - Clears path for Salt, Pepper, and Success: The Taylor Hicks Story
The Book Thief - Those Pyjamas are looking awfully Striped, if you ask me
How I Live Now - Why aren't Saoirse's agents scared to piss her off? See: Hanna.
Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas - Perhaps unwisely, I stick to just his dramas
Romeo and Juliet - While we're at it, how 'bout Twelfth Night with Chloë Moretz?
Last Vegas - If we were talking Sally Kirkland, Diane Ladd, and Diahann Carroll...
C - AARP Hangover is funnier and better acted than Hangover. Looks awful and has unwell ideas about young women. Semi-sweet.
47 Ronin - The nobility of the samurai, minus authenticity or production values
Riddick - Vin Diesel still trapped in the cl projects no one wants. A tax write-off?
Haute cuisine - Some people see any film about food. But some people ain't me!
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 - Probably not a sequel to see first, or at all
Free Birds - Tagline: "The greatest turkey movie of all time." I'm not kidding.
Walking with Dinosaurs 3D - A feature? An IMAX Experience? No, don't answer.

FORGIVE THEM FATHER
Parkland - We've all wondered how JFK's murder went down for hospital staff
Escape Plan - Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte for straight guys, except not amazing
Grudge Match - What Ever Happened to Raging Bull? with laffs, mo-cap suits
Delivery Man - A horror film where Vince Vaughn fathers a town's worth of kids

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Fifties for 2013: Best Ensemble

One more acting category before we proceed to other pastures.  Please note that Spectacular Now would have been a potent contender for me if I had seen it by the time we started this feature.

Nick's Picks


ClipFill the Void — Frances HaIn the Fog — No

Joe's Picks


ByzantiumFrances HaThe Place Beyond the PinesShort Term 12The Spectacular Now


JOE: To begin with, not to bypass Greta Gerwig's significant contributions to her film, but can we talk about making difficult on-paper characters work? That's what I think Mickey Sumner and Michael Zegen do as, respectively, borderline unbearable and horrible-at-times friend Sophie and idle hipster shithead Benji. It helps that, for once, Noah Baumbach isn't out for blood at all times. Still, I think so much about those characters and the ability of the audience to find them at odd angles comes from the performers' dedication to allowing the audience to laugh at them while not entirely dismissing them. I'd love a supercut of all the times Benji and Frances bat the word "undateable" back at each other, for example. Each time, it means something a bit different. Anyway, the great performances don't stop there, and whether it's Adam Driver doing his Adam Driver thing (blunt and sexy and Wrong For You) or Grace Gummer doing her Grace Gummer thing (all the brittleness that her mom and sister shrug off their shoulders resting comfortably atop hers) or Charlotte D'Amboise looking at Frances and wondering how (or if) she's going to tell this girl what's good for her. Whose Frances supporting performance tickled your fancy the most?



NICK: You mentioned most of my favorite players in Frances Ha, a movie of which I have fond but not total recall. D'Amboise is a treat every second she's up there. Otherwise, bits and players run together a little for me, while I principally recall a mood and a milieu. The great ensemble work is responsible for that, particularly in scenes like the bad dinner party where Frances is being a doofus and Grace Gummer is sucking lemons about having invited this nut to live with her, even temporarily. Am I crazy for thinking I was on Sumner's side of her fights with Gerwig more often than the reverse? We might have related to the movie differently, or I might just be mistaken, but it's a tribute to the whole ensemble, Gerwig included, that it evokes so many points of view and so many possible takes on multiple, colorful characters that you don't dislike even if you're not too eager to meet them in real life.

I've already said a fair bit about Clip, with its gutsy Serbian youngsters playing dissolutes, brats, aggressors, self-exploiters, and risk-addicts, and about Fill the Void, whose characters are the diametric opposite of everything I just said about Clip while still negotiating a complex web of tensions. I don't think even these films would rival Frances Ha for my winner in this category, if I were picking a winner. My fifth pick was No, just in over War Witch and Place Beyond the Pines. Even though I know you liked the film, you didn't list it here. Not that impressed?

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Fifties for 2013: Best Supporting Actor

Joe's Picks


Keith Carradine, Ain't Them Bodies SaintsEmory Cohen, The Place Beyond the PinesJohn Gallagher, Jr., Short Term 12Ben Foster, Ain't Them Bodies SaintsPeter Sarsgaard, Blue Jasmine

Nick's Picks


James Franco, Spring BreakersJohn Henshaw, The Angels' SharePeter Kazungu, Paradise: LoveYiftach Klein, Fill the VoidBen Mendelsohn, The Place Beyond the Pines



JOE: Nick, I came sooooo close to putting Ben Mendelsohn on my own list. For a movie I had a decent number of issues with, the uniformly strong cast went a long way toward keeping things on the right track for me, while Cianfrance worked his themes out. Of course I was highly tempted to once again throw my beloved Dane DeHaan some recognition, but ultimately, my surprise at Cohen's layered surliness won the day. Such a recognizable character for someone so closed off, and the friendship/bully axis he works with DeHaan unlocked a good deal of that movie for me.

I ultimately—and perhaps unfairly—disqualified Franco from my field because I was so disillusioned at how Spring Breakers became so enamored of him and promptly ignored the women whose story I thought we were following. He's certainly the performance from the first half of the year that people are still talking about. Buzz justified, I guess you'd say?



NICK: Weirdly, I wouldn't say that.  I actually don't like Franco's performance as used in the film.  Where you see it as pulling focus from the girls (and I don't disagree), I hate how it locks down the preternaturally mobile and expressive camera into a series of Behold the Master close-ups and medium shots.  As a formal element, Alien is my least favorite thing in Spring Breakers.  But as much as I associate Franco with cockiness and am therefore tempted to blame him for showboating, I think the performance itself is a pretty sensational act of self-transformation and witty repackaging.  He almost lost his slot to an opposite performance—Alec Baldwin's small and utterly unshowy part in Blue Jasmine, playing to me the most plausible human being in the film—and he'll probably fall out later.

Say more about why Cohen isn't "overdoing it," which is the same critique Franco's vulnerable to, and one I've heard lobbied against Pines in general and Cohen in particular.  Then I promise I'll reply about Mendelsohn!

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Friday, August 16, 2013

The Fifties for 2013: Best Supporting Actress

Longtime readers know that every year, once I reach the point when I have seen 50 commercial releases in the U.S. market, I post a feature called The Fifties, where I celebrate the best achievements in typical film-awards categories from these early months of the year.  Most of these movies and performances are destined to be forgotten at year's end, either because no one can remember past Halloween or because the kinds of films that get released in winter, spring, and summer rarely translate into critics' prizes or Oscar fodder.

In recent years, my buddy Joe Reid—who gives great Twitter and who writes for Tribeca and The AV Club and his own blog and just about everywhere else—has appropriated the tradition of The Fifties, and this turns out to be an especially beautiful thing.  Partly because he tends to hit the 50 threshold around the same time I do; this year, without trying, we even hit it on the same day.  Partly because we love movies and gushing about movies in many of the same ways, but we don't always see the same movies.  Our overlap at this point is almost exactly 50%.  In terms of our departures, Joe saw lots of new Sundance and Tribeca titles, does a better job keeping up with what The Kids Are Watching, and has access to press screenings that enable him to peek further than I can into what's coming in the months ahead.  I saw some 2013 micro-releases at last year's Chicago and Toronto festivals, am more of an early-year bloodhound for Cannes, Berlin, and Venice hits that are finally bowing in U.S. cinemas, and I see a lot of short-run arthouse stuff that Joe also likes but sometimes can't fit into the crowded schedule of films and TV he already has to cover.  He makes sure I catch up with Chronicle and 21 Jump Street and keep an eye out for Short Term 12 and What Richard Did.  I natter at him about Paradise: Love and The Turin Horse and let him know that Lovelace isn't all that.  But we both struggle with Upstream Color and Place Beyond the Pines, we both show up at Tyler Perry joints, and we both agree that The Heat is the best mall-purchased present anybody gave us this summer.

We also only agree about half the time about movies we do share in common, and we can't find many patterns in when we do or don't, or why.

So for this year's Fifties, Joe and I will both name our picks in each category and then have a back-and-forth about our selections, our conspicuous omissions, our differences of opinion, and what we're looking forward to in the coming months.  We have enough overlap that our choices are worth collating, but we also diverge enough in our habits that you're essentially getting a supersized sense of what's been out there so far.  We'll start with Best Supporting Actress, a category I had atypical trouble filling out; in fact, I already wish I'd recast somehow in the troubling fifth spot.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Color Purple



I read Alice Walker's The Color Purple for the first time in the backseat of a car during Spring Break of my junior year of high school, while my parents drove me from Virginia to New Jersey to start looking at colleges.  I would say, "By the end of the book I was audibly crying," except that would imply I wasn't already crying at several earlier stages.  As soon as I finished the book, I read it again, and then I read Damage by Josephine Hart (!), and then Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, and then The Color Purple again, and I cried again.  After well over a thousand miles of driving up and down and around the northeast (thanks, Mom and Dad!), I had a new favorite novel.  The cheap, tan, pulpy paper became somewhat damp from the stickiness of car travel and the saltiness of teenaged tears.  You can still make out the giveaway waviness in a few pages of my copy, which I bought for that trip in 1994 and still keep in my office.

The image above might be my favorite from the film, not remotely dulled for me by its ubiquitous reproductions (in slightly stylized form) as the poster image for the movie and the cover art for my paperback.  There is so much here: an elegantly simple device to communicate the passage of time; a distinctive but unfilled outline, heralding the imminent arrival within the frame of a new, debuting, but instantly iconic actress; a gesture to the Old Southern art of cut-paper silhouettes, evoked as gently here as it is brutally, dazzlingly reprised in the art of Kara Walker; an echo of prior images when Celie's and Nettie's candlelit shadows played pat-a-cake on two walls of a bedroom, such that we instantly grasp adult Celie's Bible and other books as her next-best-thing substitute for a vanished and deeply-missed sister; the rough, milled texture of the wallpaper, connoting the texture of those pages Celie is turning; and an indelible, two-ply image of reading itself as both a lonely activity and a life-saving rescue.  The low contrast and other qualities of the light here make the image unmistakably sad, even if you don't know the context.  At the same time, the shot is just warm enough—softer and more tender than the harsh, lapidary colors sneaking through the curtains at left—that you also sense the intimacy of the scene.  You'd imagine that, having read five books during a week of car travel, or three books a total of five times, that I must not have been much of a talker.  In fact I was, especially with my equally garrulous parents, but they knew I loved to read and had no problem leaving me to it even in the tight space of a four-door.  What they thought about hearing me cry with my nose in a novel I have no idea; I can't remember if I talked to them about what I was reading.  But I do recall, with fondness and wistfulness, that sense of feeling totally alone when I was reading, even when the people I loved most in the world were eighteen inches away.  This shot is a perfect index for that kind of feeling.  "I'd like to thank everyone in this book for coming," Alice Walker writes on her never-bettered dedication page, and for hours of reading The Color Purple, Celie and Mister and Shug and Nettie and Sofia and Squeak and the rest were the only people I recognized around me.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Dead Ringers

Even in my most productive weeks, in ten of my most productive weeks, I cannot compete with Nathaniel R's indefatigable productivity. If you know Nathaniel, you know he is always fretting that his site traffic will collapse, or seeking ways to give his readers more more more. He is so extraordinarily generous, it makes me tired just thinking about it, which is why you should donate.

Most recently, he has been laboring even harder than I have to make sure you know about my new book, The Desiring-Image: Gilles Deleuze and Contemporary Queer Cinema, which I started working on within a year of meeting Nathaniel in 2002.  Already he published this interview I got to do with top-flight film critic Tim Brayton about the book's ideas, its contexts, and what I hope people might get from it (which was a joy to do).  Today he is hosting a new installment of his delicious Hit Me With Your Best Shot series that is also designed to plug the book by showcasing the subject of its first chapter, David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, an eerie film noir in crimson and blue, chrome and rue, starring two twin brothers as each other's homme fatal.

I'm delighted to see what his other contributors select as their favorite shot in this deliriously gorgeous movie, shot by Peter Suschitzky, the same cinematographer who lends chic, subtle macabre to all of Cronenberg's pictures.  Suschitzky also gave us the fluorescent slash of light sabers in The Empire Strikes Back, the farcical flatness of Mars Attacks!, and the scary, rock-and-roll martyrology of Peter Watkins' Privilege, a clear and underseen precursor to the film that closes my book, Todd Haynes's Velvet Goldmine.  I suppose I'm being predictable by picking a shot that already illustrates my chapter on Dead Ringers.  But since photo captions in academic books typically keep to a bare minimum, I thought I'd say a little more about why I selected it, and what I find more generally artful about the shot, and why I relish as gruesome and disquieting a film as Dead Ringers, and what you might hear if you dip into conversation with The Desiring-Image.



These are the gynecological tools that Beverly Mantle designs for operating on "mutant women."  They wheel into this shot from just out of frame, staggering the eye with their horrid shapes while flattering it with their texture and detail, and with the precise, elegant framing Suschitzky achieves even from this spontaneously-arriving element.  The plot logic behind these implements is even more revolting than their fanged, spindly appearance: at this point the drugged-up and heartbroken Beverly believes that all women's bodies exist in a state of grievous mutation, which only he can assess and emend, using these devices.  Soon enough, we will learn that Beverly perceives himself and his own twin brother to be mutants, and will "operate" on Elliot accordingly.  No points for guessing that this goes badly.  Cyril and Stewart Marcus, the New York gynecologists whose true story inspired Dead Ringers, did not in fact smelt such alien technologies, though they did die together under mysterious circumstances, and one of them did leap atop a female surgery patient in a narcotic haze to huff her anesthesia, as Beverly does soon enough in this scene.  If you want to know more about the Marcuses, read the "Dead Ringers" chapter of this book, and feel bad for Rosenbaum that he gets no credit of any kind in Cronenberg's film.

My book is about queer cinema from the late 1980s to the present, and its biggest goal is to define that rubric so that it doesn't only or even primarily equate to "gay and lesbian film."  Instead, I want the phrase to suggest an expansive, debatable, fluctuating range of movies that use story, style, and structure to throw their audiences out of easy assumptions about what any desire is, how it works, who feels it, via what promptings, how abruptly it might shapeshift, and how cinema helps create it.  I wrote two chapters on Cronenberg because he's more or less our poet laureate of shape-shifting bodies and weird sexualities, though Dead Ringers marked something new for him in the wake of Rabid, Scanners, The Fly, and their ilk: rather than douse us in the plasma and viscera of bodily change, Dead Ringers uses uncanny atmospherics, brooding performances, and objects like these tools to imply total overhauls in desire and embodiment.  As the best horror movies know, and some of the most erotic movies do as well, what we imagine for ourselves is often scarier and sexier than images can show us.  Beverly's tools are unnerving, then, because they force you to conceive of the body they would fit: an ingenious cinematic trick, though not one that every viewer will want to try at home.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Birthday Invite to Matthew Eng



First, to Matthew Eng, a longtime reader of this website whose birthday is today, June 12. I have never actually met Matthew, but a little birdy (initials V.S.) told me that he has spent enough time on this site that he'd get a kick out of an e-mail or a tweet or a blogpost saying "Hello!" and "Happy Birthday!" and "Long Live All Those Actresses You and I Both Love!"

But I've decided to go Matthew and his birthday benefactor one better, because with the Northwestern school year finally wrapping up, and with my long year of waiting for tenure and for my book to come out (expect more soon about that!), it's clearly past time to get serious about reviving this website and blog.  I loved hearing that there are readers out there who still enjoy this site and its initial centerpiece of long-form reviews, because I haven't written one in quite a while.  Getting other, bigger, higher-stakes writing projects off my plate means getting to re-embrace lots of smaller and/or more personal ones, and I can't tell you how delighted I am to throw off the dust covers and get Nick's Flick Picks properly going again.  Hopefully all the plumbing still works and the electricity's still on.

So Matthew, for being such a devoted patron of NFP, and for having such a good friend who's such a fantastic person and wonderful student (which only assures me of how fantastic and wonderful you surely are, too), what would you like to hear about first?  You, like me, live with the indignity of having no Best Actress nominee who shares a birthday with you, or else I was going to profile one of her performances.  My research shows me that your birthday-mates include famous diarist Anne Frank, and I've never seen the Oscar-winning documentary Anne Frank Remembered or the classic Diary of Anne Frank, which netted so many Academy nods and a win for Shelley Winters, one of the very few Supporting Actress victors I have left to screen. Should I write one of those up for you?  Are those too depressing for a birthday celebration?

Would you prefer a review of a movie starring gorgeous Aussie stalwart Frances O'Connor, perhaps Patricia Rozema's oddball adaptation of Jane Austen's magnificent Mansfield Park? Something starring saucy, multi-talented African-American pioneer Nina Mae McKinney, such as her dazzling musical debut in Hallelujah! or the amazing pre-Code potboiler Safe in Hell? Maybe you'd prefer a review of one of last year's most terrific movies, Magic Mike, starring another Matthew, as well as June 12 birthday girl Cody Horn? That would also be a prompt to post my long-delayed Top Ten of 2012.  Maybe you'd enjoy a review of one of the only three movies that ever featured the legendary stage actress Uta Hagen, who originated the role of Martha in Broadway's original Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? If you're in the market for Uta, the movies I know I can get my hands on are the dark thriller The Boys from Brazil or the celebrated Jeremy Irons-Glenn Close potboiler Reversal of Fortune.

Or maybe you'd be more excited for a movie that shares your birthday, rather than an actor or actress who did so? A bit more digging reveals that The Witches of Eastwick, which I've never seen, and Predator, which I have, both opened on June 12, 1987. Six years earlier, Raiders of the Lost Ark bowed on June 12, 1981, as did the O.G. original Clash of the Titans. I've already reviewed the modern lesbian classic High Art (twice, in fact, because I love it), but not the other actressy arthouse venture that opened on June 12, 1998: the eccentric Balzac adaptation Cousin Bette, where Jessica Lange tries out period comedy, and everything ends with Elisabeth Shue and Bob Hoskins smearing each other's naked bodies with chocolate sauce. For real.

Or maybe the most obviously birthday-related linkage———and I'm not sure how you feel about this—is that you came into the world on the same day that Rosemary's Baby did. Don't worry, I'm sure that doesn't mean anything.

So, Matthew: pick one of the movies listed above, and I'll be delighted to review it: not just in honor of you, but as a gesture of solidarity with all my patient readers that I really am baaaack. Choose wisely (use the Force!), leave your answer in the Comments field, and have a fantastic day today!

P.S. One extra gift: June 12 is also the birthday of the hostess of the obviously best infomercial there ever was.  I give you Jennilee Harrison and the Infinite Dress. You're welcome. (Go easy on her, because as she may have mentioned, she doesn't have a mirror.)

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Please, Please Judge This Book By Its Cover

I have just received my book cover from my editors at Oxford University Press and from their obviously fabulous art department. The fabulousness achieves greater dimensions if you click the image at left. I cannot even believe what I am seeing, not least because I'm still acclimating to the idea that this book will actually have a public life after more than a decade I have spent working on it in various incarnations. But also, can we talk about how amazing this cover is? Especially for an academic monograph?

Oxford allowed me input on which images from which movie to consider, and even on some of the design elements after they generated a few mock-ups—none of which university presses are required to do, and from what I gather, they usually don't.  Even with that level of participation, however, I would never have hit on this layout, that amazingly retro title font, or this spin on Deleuze's theory of the image as a crystalline self-reflection. (More on that concept between the covers!) I'm elated. I feel like I might be crowning with a baby that I'm now assured will be cute? We'll find out about "healthy" once people read it, but I'm happy with it, the lovely blurbs on the back are from four scholars I idolize in various ways, and cute is one good step in the direction of health, right? Isn't that what Hollywood has assiduously taught me?

Best of all, on even more personal notes, Velvet Goldmine is the movie that prompted me to apply to graduate school and to conceive of the project that became my Ph.D. dissertation and now this book; it's the subject of my first academic publication in cinema studies, as a chapter in this anthology, which I heavily rewrote as the last, anchoring chapter of my own book; and I met my partner of more than 13 years at a Velvet Goldmine-themed costume party.  So everything Manuela says in All About My Mother about her life being marked by A Streetcar Named Desire? I guess this is my movie, but in much happier ways.

The shilling begins now: you can pre-order The Desiring-Image: Gilles Deleuze and Contemporary Queer Cinema at Amazon. Oxford is making it available in price-friendly paperback during its very first printing—another unusual move for a top university press, and further proof of what a dream they have been to work with. I'll say more about what's actually in the book as its publication nears, but for now, feel free to relish what's on it. And if Jonathan Rhys Meyers striking Bowie-esque poses under Maryse Alberti's aqueous light while sporting Sandy Powell's shimmery, snakelike, Oscar-nominated, silver-and-periwinkle spandex is enough to lure your finger over to the One-Click, then all the better!

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Live-Blogging the 2012 Academy Awards

11:02: Did I just say Ben Affleck gave the speech of the night? I briefly forgot about Daniel Day-Lewis. I promise to never do that again. Good night again, everybody!

11:01: This song for all the losers is really getting Emmanuelle through this difficult moment. And whatever Kristin's been product-placed here for all night, it feels well and duly advertised.  Good night, everybody!  Are you a loser? Here's to the Losers!

11:00: Ben Affleck wins speech of the night, right? I don't care how rehearsed, sincere, or rehearsed-sincere it is (and it reads as pretty damn sincere to me).  It's wonderful.  Maybe not what I'd dream of if I were his wife "working on their marriage, and it is hard work." But otherwise? Lovely.

10:57: Grant Heslov, between Ben Affleck and George Clooney: "I know what you're thinking: 'Three Sexiest Producers Alive.'"

10:56: Michelle gives it to Argo.

10:55: Pecking order in the audience: John Travolta sits in front of Justin Theroux, who gets a better seat than Harvey Weinstein. Octavia Spencer is in front of Annapurna Pictures empress Megan Ellison and next to some cute guy. Octavia's always got a cute guy at hand.

10:54: Michelle Obama!  If the First Lady presents Best Picture, does that count as crossing the boundary between Church and State?

10:53: Jack Nicholson didn't want to die with Crash as the last Best Picture he announced.

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Picking Favorites: An Oscar Retrospective

In my season-long quest to be as positive as possible—and to avoid feting this year's nominees at the expense of the films and careers that got us here———I thought I'd run up to today's festivities with one more celebratory post.  This time, rather than citing my favorite achievements, past or present, by each of this year's nominees, I am looking back at Oscar's own peaks.  Hence, I have selected my very favorite winner from each year in the Academy's history. The takeaway here is that, for all the times Oscar gets things blatantly wrong, there is at least one exalted moment at every ceremony, and frequently more than one, where he gets things impressively right.  Let's assume we'll witness at least one of these tonight, and let's hope we have trouble picking a favorite among many viable options!

To add some collective bonhomie and diversity of opinion to this enterprise, and to include more people in my month-long Happy Party regarding the awards, I've invited some of my Oscar-obsessed besties from around the web to voice their own retrospective picks.  They include Tim Brayton from Antagony & Ecstasy; Guy Lodge from In Contention and elsewhere; Colin Low from Against the Hype; Joe Reid from Film.com, Low Resolution, et al.; Katey Rich from Cinema Blend; and Nathaniel Rogers from The Film Experience.  Everyone had the options of abstaining in any year where they felt unsure of their opinion and of cutting themselves off at whatever year their particular Oscarmania or their busy schedules dictated. You'll see our choices below, and I hope you'll add yours as well in the Comments field... before or after all the fun of tonight.


2011
My Choice: A Separation, Foreign Language Film: Because the film itself is extraordinary, because Iran had never won, and because Farhadi handled the delicate tasks of accepting glitzy Western awards in a politically volatile context with such unflagging diplomacy and subtly pointed remarks
My Runner Up: Christopher Plummer, Supporting Actor

Tim Sez: A Separation, Foreign Language Film
Guy Sez: Jean Dujardin, Actor
Colin Sez: Octavia Spencer, Supporting Actress
Joe Sez: Meryl Streep, Actress, even though I didn't know it till halfway through her speech
Katey Sez: Rango, Animated Feature
Nathaniel Sez: A Separation, Foreign Language Film


2010
My Choice: The Social Network, Original Score: For the indelible qualities of the music, its service to the film, and its unexpected embrace by this conservative branch
My Runners Up: Inside Job, Documentary Feature; Toy Story 3, Animated Feature; The Social Network, Adapted Screenplay; Inception, Sound (especially for the first lesbian winner!)

Tim Sez: The Social Network, Original Score
Guy Sez: The Social Network, Original Score
Colin Sez: The Social Network, Original Score
Joe Sez: Inception, Cinematography
Katey Sez: The Social Network, Original Score
Nathaniel Sez: The Social Network, Original Score


2009
My Choices: Mo'Nique, Supporting Actress and Kathryn Bigelow, Director: Because both women knocked their work right out of the park and because neither followed the campaign scripts that a lot of reporters wanted them to—Bigelow by not dwelling on gender, and Mo'Nique by not doing a damn thing she didn't want to

Tim Sez: Mo'Nique, Supporting Actress
Guy Sez: Kathryn Bigelow, Director
Colin Sez: Kathryn Bigelow, Director
Joe Sez: Sandra Bullock, Actress, because f*ck the haters
Katey Sez: Up, Original Score (but so many great winners!)
Nathaniel Sez: Mo'Nique, Supporting Actress

Yes, I already cheated on my own game by pairing two winners, but Oscar even does that occasionally, so the ruling stands. Apologies for earlier "Sandy/Sandy" confusion, re: Joe Reid's vote. You know some queens are still reading Sandy Powell hard for being so over her third statuette.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

2012 Oscar Class: When I Loved Them Best

February 23: Rundown completed, with the late, truly great Eiko Ishioka. By all means, keep adding your own past favorites in the Comments.

Winter quarter at Northwestern is too clogged to offer much to this blog: —think hiring, admissions, course planning, and speaker recruitment for next year, on top of the usual day-do-day and week-by-week work... and in my tenure year, no less! —Failing the opportunity to get any real blog series going, even during Oscar season, I have compensated with a Twitter series in which I reflect back on my favorite career achievements by many of this year's nominees, the famous ones and the less so.  I thought I'd archive the posts here, grouped by category, with regular updates.


BEST PICTURE
Margaret Ménégoz (nominated for Amour): Rohmer's The Green Ray, cinema's loveliest valentine to exasperating women and fleeting sublimity

Ben Affleck (nominated for Argo): Politically, his work in and advocacy for the Congo; personally, when he earned the Garner Endorsement... Artistically, as he shatters his mask of civility in Changing Lanes and as head piranha in Boiler Room

George Clooney, as producer (nominated for Argo): Far from Heaven, the pinnacle of Section Eight's short, happy life of spreading wealth 

Stacey Sher (nominated for Django Unchained): Erin Brockovich, where she produced a vanity star vehicle and an "issue film" minus pitfalls of either... Though if we're talking pure affection, bless Sher for taking the chances she did on Living Out Loud, Caveman's Valentine, and Out of Sight.

Gil Netter (nominated for Life of Pi): The creamy, campy, nasty, and wonderfully cast My Best Friend's Wedding reigns supreme from a spotty CV

Kathleen Kennedy (nominated for Lincoln): E.T., because talk about nailing your debut, and Bridges of Madison County, for heroic distillation

Tim Bevan (nominated for Les Misérables): Laundrette, for charmingly challenging the market; Pride & Prejudice, for new tones; United 93, for guts

Donna Gigliotti (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): Effervescent Oscar champ Shakespeare in Love and deft remake Let Me In. Why so many non-believers?

Kathryn Bigelow (nominated for Zero Dark Thirty): Hurt Locker for tension, economy, contrapuntal vision; Strange Days for absorbing scuzz and sprawl


BEST DIRECTOR
Michael Haneke, as director (nominated for Amour): Time of the Wolf, for being haunting, austere, emotionally direct without seeming smug. Amour next.

Ang Lee (nominated for Life of Pi): Crouching Tiger, for rich palette, woozy movements, and fierce women; and Lust, Caution, for getting nasty

David O. Russell (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): I ♥ Huckabees, equally earnest and ironic, metaphysical, tricksy, hysterical, but fluent in Folks

Steven Spielberg (nominated for Lincoln): ET, a peak of mainstream product and a sad, gutsy, eccentric artwork; Schindler, for votive power


BEST ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain (nominated for Zero Dark Thirty): Performing quiet risk assessments on Shannon in Take Shelter; shaking up that chicken in The Help

Jennifer Lawrence (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): Winter's Bone, especially for sibling bonds and boat scene; she's also a fine foil in Like Crazy

Naomi Watts (nominated for The Impossible): "Dream Place," unpacking sweaters, touring Adam's set, everything after "Llorando" in Mulholland Drive


BEST ACTOR
Bradley Cooper (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): As he keeps insisting on picking Amy Poehler's clipboard off the ground in Wet Hot American Summer

Daniel Day-Lewis (nominated for Lincoln): For all his "bigger" turns, I can't shake straight-backed but broken John Proctor in The Crucible

Hugh Jackman (nominated for Les Misérables): The Fountain, stoking real feelings, his slight blandness ideal as a vessel for souls passing through

Joaquin Phoenix (nominated for The Master): Master, for ace Pennmanship; We Own the Night and To Die For, for poignant takes on two lost guys

Denzel Washington (nominated for Flight): Cagy, smart, fiery in Malcolm X; discomfited in Philadelphia; hypnotic and venal in Training Day


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams (nominated for The Master): Junebug, for awe, sunniness, and rue; The Fighter, for pugnacity; Sunshine Cleaning, for hints of anger

Sally Field (nominated for Lincoln): Steel Magnolias, which took best, blended advantage of her humor and almost surly toughness

Anne Hathaway (nominated for Les Misérables): Prada, finding a detailed girl in drabbest role; Rachel, using neediness, exhibitionism brilliantly

Helen Hunt (nominated for The Sessions): Mad About You, for intimacy; Dr T, for carnal ease; "G***amn Motherfu**ing HMO Bastard Pieces of Sh*t."


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Alan Arkin (nominated for Argo): From my narrow survey, his delicacy in Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and quietly memorable turn in Glengarry

Robert De Niro (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): Taxi Driver, for poignant but dangerous inarticulacy; New York, New York, for charisma and cruelty

Philip Seymour Hoffman (nominated for The Master): Magnolia, for panicked tenderness; Ripley, for 16-carat smarm; Synecdoche, for prismatic sadness

Tommy Lee Jones (nominated for Lincoln): Indelible husbands in Coal Miner's Daughter, Blue Sky, Hope Springs; two triumphs in Three Burials


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Kirby Dick (nominated for The Invisible War): Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, so touching and confrontational in equal parts

Howard Gertler (nominated for How to Survive a Plague): Shortbus, a movie on which my feelings remain mixed but a clear feat of producing. Rooting for you!


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Michael Haneke, as writer (nominated for Amour): As scripts, the unflinching Piano Teacher, queasy Code Unknown, and elliptical Caché take the cake

Quentin Tarantino (nominated for Django Unchained): My answer since '97, you Jackie-Come-Latelys. Heightened form and idiom minus the heartlessness.


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Tony Kushner (nominated for Lincoln): Angels, for Harper, Roy, ideas, convictions, cubistic compassion, more life; Homebody/Kabul, for brio


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Seamus McGarvey (nominated for Anna Karenina): Winter Guest, for deep, delicate chill; War Zone, for unnerving tactility; Soloist, for surprises.

Robert Richardson (nominated for Django Unchained): JFK and NBK, two bold, disparate phantasmagorias; and groggy but hopped-up Bringing Out the Dead

Janusz Kaminski (nominated for Lincoln): Dull answers, but Schindler is stunningly lensed, first acts of Diving Bell and Pvt Ryan do amaze

Roger Deakins (nominated for Skyfall): Dead Man Walking, for faces and subtle atmospherics; Fargo, for memorable framings, evocative whites


BEST FILM EDITING
William Goldenberg (nominated for Argo and Zero Dark Thirty): Ali, whose unexpected rhythms and episodic structure accumulate so much force, up to potent end

Tim Squyres (nominated for Life of Pi): The same pair (see: Ang Lee) plus Sense and Sensibility for cadence and balance, Rachel for carefully managed entropy

Michael Kahn (nominated for Lincoln): Indelible images in energetic succession for Raiders; oscillating fever and quiet in Fatal Attraction

Jay Cassidy (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): Into the Wild for rhythm, panorama; Assassination of Richard Nixon for enabling odd, great performance

Dylan Tichenor (nominated for Zero Dark Thirty): Ambition, originality of Boogie, Magnolia, most of Blood; classicism of The Town; energy of Whip It


BEST SOUND MIXING
Andy Nelson (nominated for Lincoln and Les Misérables): The Thin Red Line, Moulin Rouge, and A.I., three very different jewels in one hell of a crowned résumé

Greg P. Russell (nominated for Skyfall): Point Break and Salt, two instances when detailed sonic hyperbole ideally suited a dialed-up story


BEST SOUND EDITING
Wylie Stateman (nominated for Django Unchained): Nixon, for Stoned hyperbole and eerie quiets; and Kill Bills, for sharp sounds gleaming like swords


BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Jacqueline Durran (nominated for Anna Karenina): Anna Karenina's architectural couture; Tinker Tailor's subtle detail; Happy-Go-Lucky accessories

Joanna Johnston (nominated for Lincoln): About a Boy, for contemporary cool in all senses; War Horse, for textures; Unbreakable, for color.

Paco Delgado (nominated for Les Misérables): Bad Education, where the color, cut, and print of the men's clothes make them look like Gila monsters

Eiko Ishioka (nominated for Mirror Mirror): Muscle suit, basilisk gown in Dracula. Taloned mask, four-storey cape, unraveled heroine in The Cell.

Colleen Atwood (nominated for Snow White and the Huntsman): Beloved, for unusual colors and details in new contexts; Edward Scissorhands, for instant iconicity


BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
David Gropman (nominated for Life of Pi): I never forgot the lived-in homes and neighborhoods of Nobody's Fool, Bobby Fischer, Mr & Mrs Bridge

Jim Erickson (set decorator, nominated for Lincoln): Boy, can he decorate US period sets, as also seen in New World, Little Women, and There Will Be Blood

Eve Stewart (nominated for Les Misérables): Topsy-Turvy is an unqualified triumph, but where was her nod for woolly, chilly, indelible Vera Drake?


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alexandre Desplat (nominated for Argo): Birth and The Painted Veil are the two scores from the last decade I'd gladly attend in concert

Mychael Danna (nominated for Life of Pi): Exotica score evokes grotty desperation without standard tricks. Sweet Hereafter sad, odd, soulsick.

John Williams (nominated for Lincoln): Star Wars' glorious fusion of magic and chintz; AI and Nixon, taking nervy risks; iconic ET and Jaws

Thomas Newman (nominated for Skyfall): American Beauty, for fusing discord and sublimity as well as Hall or Ball did; Good German for yuks


BEST VISUAL EFECTS
Bill Westenhofer (nominated for Life of Pi): Stuart Little, where mouse's charm, simplicity, and deft execution defied a typically antic genre

Janek Sirrs (nominated for Marvel's The Avengers): The Matrix, because in the middle of the night, I can be big-hearted. Nice work on Pleasantville, too.


BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Howard Berger (nominated for Hitchcock): The outlandish archetypes inside a diseased mind in The Cell; phantom behind the diner in Mulholland Drive

Peter King (nominated for The Hobbit): Velvet Goldmine's UFO-ready makeup reveals and conceals character, nails glam-à-clef allusions. Fierce!

Lisa Westcott (nominated for Les Misérables): Notes on a Scandal, where makeup on Dench, Blanchett conveys all you need to know but isn't too much


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Tim Burton (nominated for Frankenweenie): Edward Scissorhands for heart, Mars Attacks! for ack-ack and ruthless momentum, Ed Wood for everything


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