Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Due for a Tune-Up

If the blog and the website go down for a spell of a few days, especially over the coming weekend, please don't be alarmed. I'm switching domain registries after an eight-year span of paying too much for a lot of stuff that should have been free under my web-hosting plan. But I'm all about bygones, etc. While the transfer happens, over the course of the next three to five days, there may be hiccups, but I'll be back soon enough (and possibly even before the outage) with the best foreign-language films of this year and last. Attendez-vous!


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Two Cuts Above

Forgive me for being distracted for the past few days, as you no doubt were, by a different set of movie Honorees—the ones given out by "that film society," in the words of Addison DeWitt. Meanwhile, if you've just heard the sound of a glass ceiling crashing, allow me to underscore that by whipping up my Best Editing citations, I have officially gotten further with the Honorees than I did with last year's. Hooray for momentum. And in honor of that great event, and in the spirit of Responsibility and of Redressing Bad Habits that is currently sweeping the nation (ahem), let's celebrate by catching up with last year's business side-by-side with this year's. In a few categories, this will be awkward, mostly because last year's movies as a whole kind of wiped the floor with this year's, at least in my mind. But that's not a problem in Best Editing, a category as surfeited with worthy contenders in '08 as it was in '07. Even the Honorable Mentions lists in both cases would have been perfectly viable as top-shelf Honorees. Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, etc.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Live-Blogging the Oscar Nominations

You know they're going to fly by, but since I literally don't have more than ten minutes between classes and meetings all day today and well into the evening, this is all you'll get from me in terms of reactions. Hope you're enjoying my favorite holiday (you pegged it, SRR!):

They're Out: Where are they? It's time! It's "producer, director, and Oscar-winning actor" Forest Whitaker? He'll look all sympathetic and full of feeling for everybody. Big teddy bear. He'll hug everyone who got snubbed.

S.Actress: Adams, Cruz, Davis, Henson, and Tomei (no Winslet!) (no DeWitt!)

S.Actor: Brolin (yay!!!), Downey (heh), Hoffman, Ledger, and Shannon (pulled it off!)

Actress: Hathaway (phew!!!!), Jolie, Leo (applause!), Streep, and Winslet (your winner), for The Reader!

Actor: Jenkins (no Eastwood!!!!!!), Langella, Penn, Pitt (oh, gross), Rourke (no Patel!!!!!!)

Director: Fincher, Howard, Van Sant (applause!), Daldry, Boyle

O.Screenplay: Frozen River (jesus!), Happy-Go-Lucky (oh, no Hawkins!), In Bruges, Milk (clapping), WALL•E

A.Screenplay: CCButton, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Reader (they loved this one), Slumdog

Foreign Film: Baader Meinhof, Class (yayyyy!!!), Departures, Revanche, Waltz with Bashir (I predicted pretty well!)

Animated Film: Bolt, Kung Fu, WALL•E (they just hate the foreign stuff, huh?)

Picture: CCButton (gross), Frost/Nixon (total meh), Milk (YAYYY!!!, but no Dark Knight!), The Reader (no official nominees yet?), Slumdog (screwing up my months of WALL•E predictions)

Overall: ehhhhhhh????????? I haven't even absorbed it yet.
Biggest Relief: Trouble the Water in Documentary!!!!

For More: Nominees indciated here.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hearing Things

You all know the drill by now, I'm hoping. Obviously, I harbor no prayers for my nominees intersecting with Oscar's tomorrow morning by more than one degree, but if the Sound Branch cared about Creative and Subtle as much as they obviously love Loud, and if they had room in their hearts for more than one genre and more than one month of the releasing year, maybe one of these other four movies would have a shot.


Encounters with the Real

With all the history made yesterday, let's keep a theme alive and keep engaging with reality. Highly mediated and stage-managed versions of reality, not unlike an inaugural festivity, but reality nonetheless. As ever, some realities are better than others.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Haven't I Seen This Before?

I expected to be thinking about all kinds of things today, but I didn't expect to be thinking about Showgirls. Still, how exactly does a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court wind up reading the words of the inaugural pledge all out of order? Is it related at all to how a whole buncha marbles just sort of happen to wind up on the floor of the Goddess show?

I wonder. But in the interest of reaching across the aisle, and of keeping a tight lid on straight-up paranoia, this post will explode by morning. Burn after reading, etc.


O, Happy Day!

Wherever you are on the political spectrum, and whether or not you're an American citizen, I hope you are following today's historically tremendous events and thinking about where and how you fit into the promise of renewal, recovery, and redistribution in the U.S., and in the way the U.S. engages with the rest of the world. I'm all for figuring out how to suture myself into this revitalized America and devising some means for being a more active agent and participant in the politically and globally progressive tide.

But for this moment, with the inauguration about ten hours away, I'm just feeling the tide. It feels like this:

I know that it's a 20-year-old jam and that Caron and Jazzie and the rest hail from English shores, but this is nonetheless the song that's been playing in my head every time I think about the home-turf regime change. Granted, Team Obama has had me a little nervous at times in the last few weeks, re: Senator Burris and Larry Summers and Tom Daschle and Rick Warren, etc. Don't get too, too far into "However do you want me / However do you need me," Barack. Be you. "We need a change! A positive change!"

At the same time, though, it's been wonderful to see how seriously the incoming administration has taken the mandate to include all Americans and their belief systems, secular and otherwise, in their visions for building our collective, immediate futures. Times are going to be hard, even more than they are now, but all the same, I am feeling pretty Back to Life myself. Hope you are, too!

If you need more help getting in the mood, let's make it a full-on concert. I mean, Barack did. Now try it at home.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

We Are One

Most saliently, the national slogan for yesterday, today, tomorrow, the whole week, and hopefully for the next four years, and hopefully for longer than that. Think on that for a few minutes.

But also, the governing idea and the glorious reality behind these five spectacular acting ensembles from five good-to-great movies of the last year. You might hate my segue, but don't hate my choices. Or do, but tell me why.

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Final Oscar Nom Predix, NFP-Style

When I was a child, I was very good at prognosticating these. Then I grew up, but instead of putting away childish things, like Paul does in the Bible, I simply got worse at them. But I keep trying. I am doing my damnedest to hang onto childish things, but we'll see if I've still got any gift at all.

I'm guessing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL•E
Edging out Milk
Unless it's to be The Reader, The Wrestler, Revolutionary Road

I'm guessing Darren Aronofsky (Wrestler), Danny Boyle (Slumdog), David Fincher (Benjamin), Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight), Gus Van Sant (Milk)
Edging out Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon)
Unless it's to be Stephen Daldry (Reader), Allen (Vicky), Stanton (WALL•E), Mendes (Road)

I'm guessing Anne Hathaway (Rachel), Sally Hawkins (Happy), Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Meryl Streep (Doubt), Kate Winslet (Road; but for Reader)
Edging out Michelle Williams (Wendy and Lucy)
Unless it's to be Melissa Leo (Frozen River), Kristin Scott Thomas (I've Loved), Cate Blanchett (Benjamin)

I'm guessing Clint Eastwood (Torino), Richard Jenkins (Visitor), Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), Sean Penn (Milk), Mickey Rourke (Wrestler)
Edging out Brad Pitt (Benjamin)
Unless it's to be Leonardo DiCaprio (Road), Dev Patel (Slumdog)

I'm guessing Adams (Doubt), Cruz (Vicky), Davis (Doubt), Tomei (Wrestler), Winslet (Reader)
Edging out Henson (Benjamin)
Unless it's to be DeWitt (Rachel)

I'm guessing Brolin (Milk), Downey (Tropic), Hoffman (Doubt), Ledger (Dark Knight), Pitt (Burn)
Edging out Patel (Slumdog)
Unless it's to be Kapoor (Slumdog), Marsan (Happy), Shannon (Road), Franco (Milk), Irwin (Rachel), Fiennes (Reader), Fiennes (Duchess)

I'm guessing Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, WALL•E, The Wrestler
Edging out The Visitor
Unless it's to be Burn After Reading, Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges, Gran Torino, Synecdoche, New York (and Frozen River)

I'm guessing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire
Edging out The Dark Knight
Unless it's to be Revolutionary Road

I'm guessing The Class, Departures, The Necessities of Life, Revanche, Waltz with Bashir
Edging out Tear This Heart Out
Unless it's to be Everlasting Moments, Three Monkeys, The Baader Meinhof Complex

I'm guessing Encounters, I.O.U.S.A., Man on Wire, They Killed..., Trouble the Water
Edging out Standard Operating Procedure
Unless it's to be Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Betrayal, Glass (and The Garden)

I'm guessing C.C.Benjamin, Dark, Reader, Road, Slumdog
Edging out Wrestler
Unless it's to be Changeling, Australia, Rachel

I'm guessing Changeling, C.C.Benjamin, Dark, Road, Slumdog
Edging out Duchess
Unless it's to be Reader, Australia, Doubt

I'm guessing Brideshead, Changeling, C.C.Benjamin, Duchess, Road
Edging out Australia
Unless it's to be Brothers Bloom, Dark, Sex, Slumdog, Other Boleyn Girl, Reader (and Milk)

I'm guessing Bolt, WALL•E, Waltz
Edging out Kung Fu Panda

I'm guessing C.C.Benjamin, Dark, Frost, Slumdog, Wrestler
Edging out Milk
Unless it's to be WALL•E, Reader, Iron Man

I'm guessing C.C.Benjamin, Dark, Defiance, Reader, Slumdog
Edging out Frost
Unless it's to be Changeling, WALL•E, Road, Indiana (and Milk)

I'm guessing C.C.Benjamin, Dark, Iron, Slumdog, WALL•E
Edging out Quantum
Unless it's to be Indiana, Defiance, Australia (and Wanted)

I'm guessing "Down to Earth," "I Thought I Lost You," "Jaiho," "Once in a Lifetime," "The Wrestler"
Edging out "O Saya"
Unless it's to be "Trouble the Water," "By the Boab Tree," "In Rodanthe," "The Call," "Gran Torino," "Count on Me"

I'm guessing C.C.Benjamin, Dark, Iron Man
Edging out Journey
Unless it's to be Australia, Hellboy II, Mummy

I'm guessing C.C.Benjamin, Dark, Indiana, Iron Man, WALL•E
Edging out Quantum
Unless it's to be Defiance, Slumdog (and Wanted)

I'm guessing C.C.Benjamin, Dark, Hellboy II
Edging out Wrestler
Unless it's to be Tropic, Reader, Synecdoche

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

They Weren't Cold in Anyone's Shadow

Please accept my apologies, Lulu et al., for not having any of this together in time for the Supporting Actress Blog-a-thon earlier in the month.

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Click If You Care about Good Writing

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Counting Down the Hits

Digging deeper than that Top Ten List and squeezing some movie scribbling in between bouts of professional errands and toil, here are the first four six categories of the 2008 Nick's Flick Picks Honorees. I promise I have seen more movies than The Dark Knight (stay tuned...), and I am perfectly aware that I never even finished this project last year and am extremely hopeful of not reprising that lamentable (non-)conclusion. Keep me going with comments, even if it means expressing horror at my selections or omissions.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Top Ten of 2008 (Finished!)

The Golden Globes broadcast was last night; here were my cheeky reactions to what the HFPA thought were the best filmmaking achievements of the year. You will not be surprised to know that my own best lists don't have much in common with the Globes roster, especially once you move out of the acting categories. The status and scope of this year's Nick's Flick Picks Honorees is still up in the air, especially given that I never finished last year's list, but for now, here at least is a quick run-down of my Top Ten U.S. Releases for 2008:

A patient, carefully paced, and unusually structured chronicle of grief, vulnerability, and tentative movements toward new life in the gorgeous, overcast, water-logged lowlands of Mississippi. Debut filmmaker Lance Hammer guides his actors through subtle, specific, and resonant performances, and his handling of tone, landscape, and atmosphere avoid most of the clichés of the meditative, region-specific American indie. Illuminating and sad, in eccentric and interestingly qualified ways. I couldn't even say whether the three pivotal relationships in the film had become more or less legible to me by the end of the film, and that's all to the credit of Hammer and his cast of unknowns. Many reviewers reached for Dardenne comparisons; I thought first of David Gordon Green, but leaving aside the easy reflex of comparison, Ballast felt fresh and wonderfully cared for. Even its dangling threads were more interesting than a lot of movies' dramatic cores.

Eight years was a long time to wait after Tarsem's florid, overweening, but brilliant debut picture The Cell, and it took The Fall almost two years to make the leap from the 2006 Toronto Film Festival lineup into a modest theatrical run. Strong word of mouth kept it in arthouses for a couple of months, but I'm still counting on DVD to introduce more viewers to the peculiar, crazy-quilt, consummately spectacular pleasures of Tarsem's imagination. For once, the framing device of a storytelling film is as eccentric and complicated as the unfolding, frankly erratic fantasia that an injured stuntman is improvising for the precocious foreign-born girl (a priceless Catinca Untaru) who restlessly bums around his hospital bed. Like The Fountain, The Fall is full of stuff that would have worked better with more money and a more seasoned filmmaker at the helm, but the mad sincerity and gorgeous, strange, hyperbolic visuals that make both movies special are exactly what an older pro might not have allowed. The finale is one of the formal and emotional show-stoppers of the year.

Another movie that will need DVD devotees, and though I certainly wish it the best on Netflix, Savage Grace needs the big screen almost as much as The Fall does—possibly more. Tom Kalin, who's been missing from movie theaters even longer than Tarsem has, rejects a tamed narrative or linear psychologies in exchange for a more expressive, diagonal, overpowering impression of the perverse realities behind one family's tabloid-ready meltdown. With an archly mannered script, colors and backdrops as furious as those in Contempt, and a brave commitment to razor-sharp edits that throw off the predicted rhythms of almost every scene, Savage Grace captures the eerie, almost deoxygenated world of vulgar wealth, but the movie isn't just a screed against the upper classes. The boredom and driftlessness of the characters are actually poignant, and Kalin and his actors manage a remarkable, discomfiting empathy for the incestuous sexual triangle that for a brief spell brings some joy to Julianne Moore's colorfully gauche mother and to Eddie Redmayne's unnervingly stunted son. A jagged object that does excellent work with image, sound, rhythm, and high theatrics, at a time when many films are only ambitious, much less successful, in one or two of these areas.

One of the best as-yet unreleased movies I saw in 2008 was this furious, terrifying immersion in the tumultuous, trigger-happy world of African child soldiers, with generous cross-cuts to the watchful, heartbreaking efforts of one lonely girl to keep her family safe from these roving, murderous platoons; even worse than dying at their hands would be for her brother or herself to be impressed into service. Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's bracing, inevitably confrontational movie made enough waves at Cannes that sooner or later I assume some U.S. distributor will pick it up, at which point I take for granted that all the Stateside reviews will call this Liberia's answer to City of God. I think Johnny Mad Dog is much less familiar in its dramaturgy and more careful about not getting off on the violence or the charisma of its no-rules criminals. If the film had already premiered on U.S. screens in 2008, it would enter the list at this rung.

A better Mike Leigh movie than Mike Leigh made in 2008 (Happy-Go-Lucky is a plum, but predictable and slight), a more controlled and consistent dysfunctional holiday drama than the fantastic one Arnaud Desplechin made in 2008 (that would be A Christmas Tale), and the best thing Jonathan Demme has pulled out of the bag since the cuckoo-glorious days of Something Wild and Married to the Mob, with all due respect to the spooky menace and genius performances in Silence of the Lambs. As the years pass, that movie looks a little too storyboarded and squatted at some awkward, overly formal distance from what it's delving into, whereas Rachel, even at the expense of some early, fumbling experiments in DIY photography, keeps in splendid, tetchy, furious, and musical step with its fractious family. Bill Irwin's emotional father, in the film's oddest and perhaps its best performance, and Jonathan Demme, as resident wedding planner and musical curator, both do a brilliant if occasionally desperate and self-indulgent job of holding the whole messy affair together, mediating among the vivid and competing parts and forcing the most estranged characters and dissimilar actors to come together. Whether Irwin's character ultimately succeeds is highly debatable; that Demme succeeds is beyond question, especially if you're clocking Anne Hathaway's high-wire impersonation of sparkling self-destruction or Rosemarie DeWitt's agile and thoughtful handling of the wounded and narcissistic Rachel, a character who's as easy to love and to resent as Hathaway's wide-eyed rehab fugitive. Somehow the actors don't get swallowed by the colorful staging and mise-en-scène, and the performances don't all boil down to any single scene or revelation. Not everything works perfectly, but all of it works plenty well, and it's a fantastically living piece of work.

#6: CHICAGO 10
In a year where Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir drew headlines and top prizes for its unusual experiments with animated documentary, Brett Morgen's Chicago 10 worked a similiar aesthetic gambit for even more bracing results. One wouldn't call the flat, often stiff rotoscope animation of the jury-trial sequences a major technical advance, but these scenes do have the vivid, sharp feel of a graphic novel, plus the fizzy humor and compulsive watchability that precious few graphic-novel adaptations have actually managed. That the disorderly squabbling of lawyers, the vicious pronouncements from the bench, and the outraged jokester antics of the famous defendants are all drawn from actual court transcripts makes these sequences historically informative, rather than simply a punchy way of retelling history, and of doing so in a populist, frankly reductionist mode that Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and their comrades probably would have relished. A major strength of Chicago 10 is that, in willfully disavowing a fuller picture of the DNC convention or the wider, global contexts of 1968 protest movements, it wonderfully evokes the mix of righteousness, idealism, and myopic insolence that typified the protesters. But even that achievement is nothing compared to the eye-opening archival footage of the sit-ins, concerts, marches, protests, and police attacks in Grant Park, Lincoln Park, and Michigan Avenue, making Chicago 10 the rare American movie to remind us that concerted, principled, and dangerous political protest has taken many forms in recent American history, under-taught and poorly remembered though they are. Morgen edits and scores his movie fabulously, keeping a firm hold on color, motion, and tension in his frames and his sequence-structures, and mixing 60s-era music with modern influences (Rage Against the Machine, Eminem) that resonate uncannily well with what we're seeing—some of us for the first time.

The Wrestler is recognizable as a Darren Aronofsky movie: he prefers a tiny but tightly woven ensemble, enjoys the symbols and ethics of a subculture, and adores keeping the fronts and backs of heads in the dead-center of his frames. Probably everyone on screen would nod their heads at the wisdom of Hubert Selby Jr. if given the chance, and they can all see death coming in one form or another: old age, middle age, dead-end jobs, obsolescence, ruinous relationships you can't get away from. But The Wrestler is just as surely a new maneuver for Aronofsky, imbued with a liveliness in the moment that he's never attempted, plus a warmth that was missing from the first two films and was hyperbolized as era-spanning and interplanetary eros in The Fountain. The Wrestler even accommodates a casual humor that neither the scripts nor the actors of Aronofsky's previous projects have been permitted to access for more than split-seconds at a time. He's certainly never directed a performance as rounded and textured as Mickey Rourke's, which lights up every filament in the role and the story as scripted but also plays against the screenplay's tendencies toward the maudlin and the overdetermined (and you could say exactly the same for Marisa Tomei, in her smaller role as Cassidy/Pam). The Wrestler has the ritual force of the inevitable as well as the moment-to-moment aura of truth, surprise, and unprejudiced observation.

The opening narration and the grey, low-tech images of Up the Yangtze might imply that what's to follow is yet another traveling-liberal documentary where the suffering of a place and a people is lamented by a temporary resident whose good-faith effort to connect with the hurting crowds never quite translates into a palpable connection with his or her subjects, much less a convincingly cinematic experience. But Up the Yangtze not only accounts for its smoggy, silty visuals quite early, but it insinuates itself right into the lives of two Chinese students who, for different reasons and with very different spirits, find themselves working on a luxury yacht from which Western tourists can witness the deterioration of a prodigious landscape and an enormous human community. Crucially, director Yung Chang is unwilling to scapegoat the tourists or their expendable incomes, and nor is he willing to go easy on the sulky young girl or the handsome, cocky boy who are the principal subjects of the film. Meanwhile, Chang avoids the pitfalls of documentaries like Born into Brothels that connect us empathetically to distressed children by limiting our attention or our compassion for their parents; the story of the young girl's family to literally stay afloat as the Yangtze waters rise around their cottage is as detailed and memorable as the precise, exhaustive record of life on the cruise ship. By the time we reach the final, poetic image, the contradictions and nuances of a massive political and ecological predicament have been admirably portrayed for us, as have the emotions and worldviews of a population who are rarely evoked with more than the broadest strokes in popular journalism.

With almost every reel, the acclaimed visual artist Steve McQueen sets himself yet another huge, unusual challenge. How to commence with a simple image of a man washing and soothing the blisters on his knuckles, or grabbing a cigarette break outside of his workplace, and proceed to a shocking contextualization of how he got those blisters and why he needs that break. How to structure the first half-hour of a feature-length film as a coherent one-act that, left to its own merits, would win every short-film prize around. How to begin a film about a lionized martyr with a disarmingly sympathetic portrait of one of his oppressors. How to extrapolate the life of a political prisoner from the carefully rendered light, sounds, objects, and bodies in the jail, rather than leaning on captions or dialogue or cant. How to introduce your central figure so that the audience barely notices he's arrived, well into the middle third of the movie. How to blur the line between torture and standard-issue incarceration, so that every viewer has to do her or his own work to assign a name to what they're seeing. How to stop the film for a two-person conversation with only two or three cuts permitted in a span of twelve or fifteen minutes. How to pick the movie back up from there. How to film dementia. How to film hallucination, how to risk any abstraction whatsoever in a film that's supposed to be rooted in the excruciating, embodied reality of a hunger-striker as he wastes away. Hunger's laggardly rollout on U.S. screens will probably keep it from being the dark-horse barnstormer of the arthouse box-office that I once believed it would surely be. But it's still one of the essential films of the last year, a ceaseless tester of its own ingenuity and almost always a glorious passer of its own high-caliber tests. Keep an eye out.

With apologies to Robert Herrick: Whenas in booze this Julia goes, / Then, then (methinks) how swiftly flows / Her entire world into a hot, steaming, scary pile of shit. // Next, when I cast mine eyes and see / That reckless sauce-hound approaching me / I can feel already my whole life swirling right down the toilet along with hers. Beautiful, right? Tilda Swinton's Julia, an aging and perpetually sozzled disco pig who fumbles and screeches her way out of a job and then into a kidnapping and then into a murder and then into some even bigger problems makes Anne Hathaway's Kym in Rachel Getting Married look like a good part for Sandra Dee. In a year where so many leading actresses revisited familiar character types or expanded their portfolio of work without necessarily elevating it, Swinton blasts merrily, frighteningly, lucidly, and almost poignantly against the screen, which buffets her right back with one of the twistiest, punchiest, most keyed-up plots that I've seen in years. Both the film and the performance keep the audience suspended in a fascinating place between repulsion and fascination, as though it's Julia's assigned duty to restore danger and discomfort to the narrative cinema. Many people I know who saw it in Europe or at American festivals complained that it's a half-hour too long, but I think the movie would work quite less well if it were truncated; watching Julia make comparable mistakes over and over again is part of what this blazing film is about, and so is the excruciating extension of having to figure out if you're rooting for her or not, and why. Erick Zonca, yet another filmmaker who resurfaced after a long AWOL period, is still searching for American distribution, but when Julia finally closes its mighty fist around a U.S. theatrical run, however small, I'll be taking all my friends to see it and perching it high, high, high on all of my year-end lists.

James Marsh's Man on Wire is a splendid yarn and occasionally hits a sublime note of wonder, but I still can't figure out how it hoarded up all those critics-group prizes when Tia Lessin and Carl Deal's Trouble the Water was out there blowing the top off almost all journalistic coverage of Hurricane Katrina, surpassing even Spike Lee's formidable When the Levees Broke in its accumulation of complex characterization and articulate detail, and highlighting an angry silence in a historic election season that almost never gestured to the continued plight of New Orleans or to the highly preventable and hardly unique factors that sealed the city's fate. No one in recent memory, in a movie or in my life, has so irreverently cracked open the terrible vise of circumstances closing around her as Kimberly Rivers Roberts does when she scans her street of low-income home owners in the 9th Ward, sees who among her neighbors including herself and her husband have no prospects of fleeing before the storm hits, and breaks into an impromptu hook from Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald's "On My Own." She keeps her neighbors laughing and makes them welcome, and we'd thrill to her equanimity and generosity if we didn't know what we do about what's coming, and if we weren't helplessly wondering who on screen may or may not have survived. Kim and her husband Scott are fascinating documentary subjects, not just because of what happens to them and how steadfastly and harrowingly they recorded their impressions but because they keep yielding new sides of their personalities—stoicism, sentimentality, wit, fury, obedience, pragmatism, critique, escapism, idealism, mutual support—as they confront the multiple ghosts of Katrina's past, present, and future. The filmmakers seize on the splendid multi-dimensionality of their subject-protagonists and structure their film as an unfolding account of one devastating urban cataclysm and of two unpredictable personalities. The storm is only the tip of the iceberg of what's wrong with American government and bureaucracy, but by the same token, Kim and Scott are only the most foregrounded figures of a human community that keeps astonishing us with its complexity. The backstories we accumulate about Kim and Scott and their growing circle are as intriguing and informative as their present-tense story of seeking shelter and sustenance. And if you've seen the movie, you know that Kim's direct-to-camera recital of her self-pinned hip-hop tract "Amazing" is the filmic catharsis of the year: outraged and optimistic, just like the movie, and equally ingenious at spinning the uncomfortable stuff of life into the vital rhythms and revelatory frameworks of art.

The still shots from Synecdoche, New York look tweedy and annoyingly under-budgeted, and the reviews from Cannes described a movie that had a lot on its mind but much less going on in its aesthetic skill set; I can't say that I approached the movie with much in the way of enthusiasm. But Synecdoche's ridiculously ambitious structure starts paying huge emotional dividends very early, condensing any number of plots that might have propelled a shorter, easier, but interesting movie into a few quickly skirted scenes that somehow don't skimp on the potency of feeling between an aloof husband and the half-interested wife who sort of flees for her life (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener), or between an abandoned man and the inappropriate younger partner to whom he can only bring disenchantment and unhappiness (Hoffman and Michelle Williams), or between the restless artist, neither a hack nor an unimpeachable talent, who holds an improbably admiring woman by his side as a sort of sure-thing consolation prize, and who often stares back at him as though she bluntly can't decide how she ended up giving her life to him (Hoffman and Samantha Morton). The actors all have to be flying at the top of their game—even as they're playing cramped, uncomfortable people in a film that insists on stylistic modesty—for these storylines to carry any weight or feeling, much less for them to fuel a metaphysical conceit that only Terry Gilliam on an unusually morose and self-scrutinizing day would seem likely to attempt. But Synecdoche seems prodigiously able to move in multiple directions and experiment with almost any idea, and still absorb its entire cast and their multiple, sad picaresques into an unfolding, disconsolate, but frequently humorous vision that coheres beautifully even when certain elements don't quite work in the way you sense Kaufman might want them to. For a movie that's as much about the sludginess and remoteness of creativity as it is about the windows and gardens provided by art, Synecdoche is disarmingly elegant, particularly in how much meaning it extracts from short moments and quiet, scrambled, or otherwise unusual angles of approach to its own story. It's also the only fiction film I saw in 2008 that I could imagine watching as a Criterion disc in ten years, puzzling over its obvious glories as well as its puzzling recesses and deliberate constipations, and reacting to all of them as sources of renewable wonder and reflection. It convinces me completely of its integrity and its instincts; it moved me profoundly and upset me not a little, though I laughed often and recognized myself and other people I know, in good and bad ways, all the way through it. I assumed I would see it a second time in theaters and planned on several days to do so, but I always wound up postponing the experience on purpose, both to savor the anticipation for longer and out of fear that I wasn't ready to withstand the intellectual and emotional claims of the piece, or wasn't ready to concede its faults in case they seemed more conspicuous or deleterious than they had in my first epiphanic, expansive, entranced experience of the movie. No need to rush back to the theater, I suppose, when I suspect to challenge and delight and worry myself with this movie for several years to come.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Liveblogging: 2008 Golden Globes

6:48 CST Yep, I'm good for it. I don't have a cable box, and I am one of those people you read about that hasn't bought the converter thingy, so I'm not seeing a ton of visual detail. Everyone has a holographic twin of themselves standing a fraction of an inch away from them. The whole broadcast has been filmed through the beveled edge of a piece of dirty glass, in the middle of a little snow flurry. But I'm still watching it. And I can still tell when a Xanaxed Somebody With a Microphone has just made a fool of herself. "Congratulations, Sting, on your nomination!" Sting: not nominated. I hate almost all Hollywood reporters, but I do love the Globes.

Still 6:48 I love Marisa and her many, many accessories. When did she become such a fashionista? Maybe at the same time that she became such an incredibly natural actress. I didn't see either of these developments coming circa Vinny, but I'm completely happy about both.

6:52 Pierce Brosnan is making a movie about the first governor of South Africa and his love affair with Natascha McElhone. The Xanaxed Somebody With a Microphone thinks it "sounds fun." Oh, me, too. It'll be a blast.

6:57 Wait, seriously? The three zombies get to banter for several minutes? When asked who they want to win, they manage to all mumble indecipherably at exactly the same moment, but I think I heard the word "Winslet."

7:00 The time-honored arrivals montage scored to a crappy pop song. Penélope is going nude again. I mean the color of her dress, people. Always looks good on her. Drew Barrymore, as usual, looks twice as old as she is.

7:01 Jennifer Lopez looks orange, but is it just my TV? She's here to present...

I WANT: I suppose Penélope, but I don't feel strongly about it
I PREDICT: The "wild" and "exotic" Penélope should have no trouble. Surely it hurt J.Lo to have to call Penélope "wild" and "exotic"? We'll never know. Kate Winslet looks is ridiculously beautiful.

7:02 It's Kate! I think everyone in the entire room wants to make babies with her, or at least go to bed with her, or at least swap roles with her. You can tell that Kevin Bacon is sitting there thinking, "I would have been a great Hanna Schmitz."

7:05 Kate does all four things one MUST do, which is not surprising given that she is such a class act. What I mean: thanks her co-nominees, thanks the author of the original novel, acknowledges the people who died who deserve honoring, and is completely adorable. Yay for Kate.

I WANT: "The Wrestler," obviously, because it's gorgeous and perfectly apropos to the film and the character(s)
I PREDICT: "The Wrestler," because it's the only one that doesn't make me wish I were deaf. Well, the Beyoncé song isn't that bad, but it's tainted by its neighbors.

7:08 Sweet justice served! Turns out Mickey Rourke commissioned the song? And quite poetically? Every time Springsteen talks or tells a story, I feel bad that I never listen to his music or think about him as much as I should. I think it's probably a fantastic, fantastic thing that he's in the culture.

7:11 Commercial breaks are hilarious on the Globes because everyone leaps like pumas out of their seats and immediately start rubbing themselves against each other. Are they all trying to secure parts, or do they have star-crushes, or are they all just polymorphously perverse, like Jesse Helms always wanted us to believe? It's an entire room of star frottage; all those jewels surely get in the way. With the economy as it is, I'm expecting a lot of desperate friction tonight amongst the under-employed.

7:14 RUMER WILLIS is Miss Golden Globes? She of the astonishing jaw? Demi can't quite cede the on-camera moment to her own daughter. But then, if I were Demi, I wouldn't either.

I WANT: Neil Patrick Harris, though I don't necessarily mean " win this award."
I PREDICT: I'm guessing Harris, on the Winslet thesis that everyone likes him. And does anyone still like Piven? He just emanates grossness.

7:15 Tom Wilkinson. Nice to see the perennial nominees getting a brief, tasty chance at the winner's mic. As though we don't know what Kate Winslet and Tom Wilkinson sound like, but it still feels like a rare and cosmically timed moment, like being at the zoo at exactly the right time: "I can't believe I was here right when the panda rolled over!" I love that Tom (drunk!) just thanked (drunkenly!) someone whose last name he admitted he couldn't (drunk!) remember.

7:17 Simon Baker seriously can't do anything: can't act, can't pull off a laugh-line at the mic, can't be quite as cute as it seems like he should be. And here's Laura Dern, who can do almost anything. Such as stretch her mouth out to eight times its apparent size. Laura Dern to Melissa George. It's Night of the David Lynch Ingénues.

I WANT: Dianne Wiest, even though I didn't see any of these, and even though she isn't here.
I PREDICT: Wiest, but it's Dern, which is fine. Guess I'll hafta rent Recount? I wonder if she'll thank Kevin Spacey, or if anyone will. He radiates even more Gross than Jeremy Piven does.

Dern gives the night's second shout-out to Sydney Pollack, and the second shout-out to a makeup team. And she should probably thank her personal makeup team tonight, too, because she looks absolutely lovely and elegant and soft. And she thanks Democratic voters everywhere! Remind me to send flowers tomorrow to Laura Dern.

7:20 More star-on-star rubbing. Must the commercials during the Golden Globes—surely the wet dream of capitalism, but fetishized everywhere by people with hourly wages and zero 401(k)s—must the commercials remind us that this is TurboTax season? I simply cannot. wait. to toss the federal government some money.

7:25 Seriously? The voiceover person is intro'ing Don Cheadle as "the star of Hotel for Dogs"? So much for Traffic and Hotel Rwanda. Cheadle makes a joke out of the obvious weirdness that he is intro'ing Burn After Reading even though he has never crossed the path of the Coens. Though he'd actually do pretty well in like a Raising Arizona or Big Lebowski situation, don't you think? I sure do love this movie, even though I think Frances McDormand is frequently lousy in it.

7:26 Latino band music plays for Eva Mendes as she walks out. I thought she was in rehab? I'm not making fun, it's just what I thought. If so, she got furloughed for one hell of a tailoring session, because she's rocking an asymmetrical, highly structured off-white dress that I'm totally into.

7:28 The president of the HFPA, if I heard correctly that that's who he is, is sparing us his speech???! Seriously?

I WANT: Anyone who isn't the creepy Rhys Meyers
I PREDICT: Jon Hamm. When I saw Michael C. Hall, I thought for sure it was Ashton Kutcher. Winner is the absent Gabriel Byrne. Zac Efron and Hayden Panetierre can't quite agree on how to make clear that they are accepting for him. The struggles of the young.

7:29 New Star Trek guys, blatantly plugging themselves and their new roles. Not even an attempt to be funny. Just, "Hi, we are a living ad, but we're here to present..."

I WANT: Anyone who isn't Kyra Sedgwick
I PREDICT: Paquin, because it's the Globes. I miss her real hair color. If she speaks, will she make words, unlike Oscar '93?

7:31 It's Anna! She can't figure out how to get to the stage. Or maybe she's just looking for Brad Pitt. She thinks it's "awesome!" to win. Alan Ball beams at her. You know Kyra's like, "Whaaaa do Ah naaaaiiiver weeeiiin?" Anna Paquin thinks a lot of people are "awesome." One hesitates to blame the hai—you know what, I'm not even going to go there.

7:33 Heavily plugged movies that I can't wait to see: Last Chance Harvey and He's Just Not That Into You, even though they could both go so, so wrong. Or, more likely, I'll just not be that into them. But Aniston and Affleck both make me laugh in the ...Into You ads, and really, when has that ever happened?

7:34 Diane Keaton: a genius choice for L'Oréal spokeswoman. Sexy, shiny, and seemingly un-screwed-with by the mega-batallion of Hollywood cosmetic surgeons.

7:36 Ricky Gervais shushes the crowd, who are racing for their seats, post-rubbing. He takes public credit for Winslet's win for her Holocaust-themed role. Sneaks in a Ghost Town plug and complains about not being nominated: "That's the last time I have sex with 200 foreign-born journalists." Then drinks from a highball as big as a bowling ball. Then, apropos of nothing except his British-ness, he presents a clip from Happy-Go-Lucky.

7:38 I was trying to figure out how Rachel Griffiths was popping up in two different places at once, in different outfits. But that one in the black is actually Sally Hawkins.

7:39 The Jonas Brothers. Presenting. And bantering: an obvious and cold-blooded attempt on my life.

I WANT: Sit down before I tell you, but WALL•E
I PREDICT: Oh, it'll probably be Bolt, don't you think? Come on, you know I'm kidding. That bubble-wrap gag never gets old for me. But even better would be a deleted scene where WALL•E grabs the Jonas Brothers and pushes them into his adorable little ice-cooler tummy and just... compresses them. Done. Stack them on a trash tower.

I WANT: Sally Hawkins, who would appear to be weeping, or trying not to weep. And I want this even if it means no speech from Meryl or Emma, who would surely by now have won the Pulitzer Prize for Acceptance Speeches if that award had been invented yet.

It's Sally. The Globes do what needs to be done, even when it means giving awards to people who most of the people on screen don't recognize. Meryl visibly says something nice to Sally while she battering-rams her way to the stage. Yep, she's crying. She may also be halfway in outer space right now. She's more PJ Harvey than she ever was. Many of you who read this blog say that Sally is just a 1000% joy in "real life," so I'm even happier. Emma is deliciously stage-mothering her through her speech. She's making it funny that Sally is struggling, struggling through this moment. I won't quote. It's actually quite hard to watch. Poppy would give her an enormous, enormous hug. Immediately. And then she'd take her flamenco dancing in the morning.

7:47 (because Sally's moment was... pretty long) Against the heaviest competition of the night, I just saw the worst pharmaceutical drug I've ever seen, for Orencia. I didn't catch what it's supposed to help with, but I did hear this amazing passive-voice construction: "Some cancers have been reported." Also, "Be wary if you have any infections, including open sores."

7:49 Confessions of a Shopaholic ad. Normally, I'd be a flat "No." But, P.J. Hogan. And also, Kristin Scott Thomas. So... ?

7:51 Is everyone unusually drunk and disorderly tonight? The roar of talk in the background is crazily loud tonight, and the presenters keep having to be grouchy at everyone to get them to shut up. Jake Gyllenhaal is currently having this trouble before launching into an unnervingly robotic intro to the unnervingly robotic Benjamin Button. God, I hated this movie. "I was just thinking how nothing lasts, and what a shame that is." Funny: I was just thinking how some things last forever and ever and ever, and what a shame that is, and I think you know what I mean.

I WANT: To know why Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange are cracking themselves up. And to know what happened to Susan Sarandon's career. From one point of view, she got a lot out of a little for a long time. From another point of view, why can't she get almost anything together now?
I PREDICT: Oh, probably John Adams, although Cranford is a little bit Globesy, and they obviously liked Recount.

John Adams does in fact win, which in and of itself makes Jessica Lange laugh. But why?

7:55 NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! This means a Tom Hanks speech!! I usually need several weeks to prepare for one of these. He's just so positive that he charms everybody, and he just — well, okay, he got on and off quickly. Even Rita Wilson looks surprised that he shuts up so fast.

7:56 Demi Moore is TOO. MUCH. I'll say why during the next commercial break, because right now:

I WANT: Ledger, but Downey would be great, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (a no-show) and Ralph Fiennes were also quite good
I PREDICT: Ledger, and so do you. Demi is already pulling out the Solemn before she opens the envelope, because she knows it's smart to be prepared. And so it was. Heath wins. Christopher Nolan walks up to accept the award and—Demi forestalls him to show a clip of Heath's performance? Which everyone alive has already seen? Whaaaa?

Oh, good, Nolan still gets to say something. Heath's passing: "A hole ripped in the future of cinema." An eloquent remark; describes the performance as making it easier not to lament Ledger's absent future and instead to cherish what he accomplished during his life. Well played, Chris Nolan.

8:00 Okay, Demi Moore. A) I have never, ever seen the parent of a Miss Golden Globes steal The Thunder by also presenting during the broadcast. Which by default means that the Bearer of a Miss Golden Globes has never previously raced to upstage her daughter by making "comic" fun of her posture. And you know Demi was like, "Even though I have no acting career outside of my deathless celebrity, I demand to present the single award that everyone will be talking about in the morning!!" It's just astonishing. And then, she cuts in when Chris Nolan arrives. This gal is like a Newtonian Law. There is nothing you can do about her. She is implacable: she will wrest, squeeze, and claw every single nanosecond of attention that she possibly can away from whomever is foolish enough to want any attention when Demi is around.

8:04 Tom Brokaw is here?? Why? Screwing up a presidential debate isn't enough for one former news anchor to accomplish in three months' worth of TV? And is this man ever going to admit to the stroke he has so obviously had? Whatever. I don't care, just like I don't care about Frost/Nixon, though I can see where Tom Brokaw would. Ron Howard is doing one of those facial-hair things again. I think he just wants to look 30+ just once in his life before he dies.

8:06 Colin Farrell, looking dapper, which is a relief. We've seen him do otherwise. But there's no hair grease, et al., to speak of. And he's presenting...

I WANT: No strong preferences here, since I have only seen two and a half of them.
I PREDICT: Waltz with Bashir, I guess. And I guessed right! I saw Ari Folman at a Q&A and a party in London this fall (allow me the one starf**ker name-drop I will ever be allowed), and he was completely charming the whole evening. And the film is strong and ambitious, and he does a smart job of being allusive to the current warfare without being overbearing about it. So, good for him. And if my lip-reading is worth anything, I think Glenn Close agrees.

I WANT: All of these actresses to be my friends. Catherine Keener and Laura Linney look amazing. Shirley MacLaine looks, unfortunately, like she's barely holding on.
I PREDICT: Shirley MacLaine? Nope! The Lovely Laura Linney. Takes no time for Shirley to start clapping happily for her, or maybe she's just applauding the gorgeous, honey-colored dress with the interesting but subtle structure and the fabulous, long, gorgeously styled hair. Susan Sarandon does not find it very easy to clap for her competitor. Laura leaps past the stiff competition of Kate Winslet, Laura Dern, and a handful of others and immediately claims the lead in the "Most Gracious Speech" contest. And she isn't even particularly self-conscious about it. She's just so obviously nice. Though I did already know that.

8:13 This liveblog, like the Globes broadcast, has been brought to you by Stella Artois. I am totally happy to push that product because Stella subsidizes the Landmark theater chain, the Chicago International Film Festival, and just about every thing that I, too, would make corporate donations to if I were a multinational conglomerate. I'm not even sure I'm crazy about their beer, but it's the one that I buy, for the reasons just enumerated. I hope this doesn't mean I'm supporting Prop 8 or Darfur or something, but I suspect I'm not.

8:15 That movie where Clive Owen and Naomi Watts are shooting bullets in the Guggenheim and being terrorized by a bank. I'm terrorized by my bank all the time, but I don't shoot anybody, and I don't make crappy-looking movies about it.

8:17 Gerard Butler intro'ing In Bruges, which I finally watched last night. Just didn't buy it, guys. Too self-consciously cheeky and flattered by itself for me to possibly take Colin Farrell's Catholic guilt at all seriously. And how many times did the movie get bogged down in shot/reverse, shot/reverse, shot/reverse? And the girl was a chore. But this liveblog isn't about In Bruges.

I WANT: I guess Doubt or The Reader, but they have serious liabilities as scripts. Just not as many as the other ones have.
I PREDICT: Slumdog, and inevitably, it wins. Freida Pinto, not surprisingly, is delighted. Simon Beaufoy, who showed such inspiration in swiping that completely implausible conceit out of a novel that nobody ever says anything nice about, and then added lots of tasteless parallel plots and a whole ark-load of clichés. I'm so pleased to see it win. (But at least Beaufoy seems like a nice fellow.)

I WANT: A good speech, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Carell or Baldwin
I PREDICT: Baldwin. Who wins. Looks nice in his suit. At some point I'll have to see some of this show. "I remember when I used to bring Rumer Willis a juice box on the set of the movie!" He literally thanks Tina Fey four times, right up front, which is a totally fetch(ing) thing to do. Also thanks his daughter Ireland, which is sort of risky territory for him, but he soldiers on through.

8:24 Ads. This is the fourth time Kate Walsh has tried to sell me a Cadillac, and the fourth time she has tried to give a line reading about "smoldering for a long... long... time" as though she herself smolders. I beg to differ, but there are so, so many ways in which I am not the target audience for this ad.

8:26 S. Epatha Merkerson is in an ad selling Uniball pens, with the conceit that if you use a Uniball, identity theft is impossible. I honestly cannot tell if this is a joke or not. Possibly because Epatha has been such a hoot on so many awards shows that she inevitably makes me laugh, but also — seriously? Uniball "embeds its ink so far into the paper fibers that the thieves can't erase it"? That's the claim? What could this possibly mean?

8:28 GGAHHH!!!!!! NOBODY TOLD ME that Renée Zellweger would be here, and no one told me that she'd be wearing the mosquito net that Marilyn Manson packs when he boats up the Amazon. She's intro'ing The Reader, rather haltingly, though her first words refer to "The story of an older woman..." And this directs my attention to her bizarrely gray hair, and I just – do what I always do these days when Renée is at issue. I just sort of – deflate.

I WANT: To believe that in 2009, we aren't still using "flamboyant" as a code word for GAY. For Chrissakes. From what I can tell, Tom Wilkinson and Ralph Fiennes read Cate Blanchett's black-market pamphlet and they have succeeded in being cast in everything.
I PREDICT: Paul Giamatti, I would think. I'm expecting a speech that means to be funny but somehow isn't. Let's see what happens.

8:32 Giamatti is drunk, and thanks "Dame Linney." I would like to think that I am a trained reader of Laura Linney's body language at this point, and I think she's not that into Paul Giamatti. Everyone at the John Adams table looks nervous that he's going to say something awful. But then he's off.

8:33 When Glenn Close presents, she always sort of Angela Bassetts it. She YELLS THE NOMINEES AT YOU!! And her outfit is almost always upsettingly drab, or it's got, like, the debris from the sales-floor at QVC all hot-glued and staple-gunned to it. And such is the case tonight.

I PREDICT: 30 Rock. Maybe if I didn't watch any movies whatsoever I'd be totally good at predicting the winners in those categories? Because I haven't seen any of these shows, but it all seems so clear to me. The guy who accepts (and those of you who watch 30 Rock probably know who he is) makes some funny jokes about post-racial America and takes a faux-potshot at Cate Blanchett. At about this time, it all starts to seem unbecomingly sozzled, but then he says the best thing that anyone has ever said at an awards show microphone: "I wanna thank the girl at the craft service, because when she make the tacos, she do 'em just right!" You know Robert Downey or Eileen Atkins would have said exactly the same thing if they had won.

8:40 Again with the Cadillac SUV's, though this time not care of Kate Walsh. Still, I'm glad it's hybrid and all, but how sympathetic am I supposed to be to the aspirational shopper who just has to haul eight people around in a huge roadfort and demands to get flawless gas mileage? Whatever. Oh, and here's the Orencia again. Remember, the open sores. And now Mira Sorvino, plugging her new TV movie directly to the camera: "I think everyone is sort of fascinated by that world of secrets spreading across continents." What... does she – ??

8:42 Pierce Brosnan introduces a clip of Mamma Mia!, and sort of finesses the fact that he sang so awfully in it. His face tells you that he knows he is a joke, but his teleprompter script sort of skates right past the issue. But we were there, and we all remember. Nathaniel thinks Best Picture could be within Mamma Mia!'s grasp, and you don't ever want to bet against Nathaniel. But: what if I die?

8:43 P.Diddy intro'd as the producer (but not as the star?) of A Raisin in the Sun. Kate Beckinsale is his co-presenter, of course, and she's hailed as the star of the "upcoming" movie Nothing But the Truth. So, has that movie opened or what?

I WANT: A nominee worth getting excited about.
I PREDICT: Benjamin Button, though it's bottom-drawer Desplat. But it could just as easily be Slumdog.

8:44 The Slumdog thing is so far out of control. The Globes producers cannot help but cut to Angelina Jolie. Rorschach: they see impoverished non-white kids and they immediately think "Angie!" But she has the grace to look completely not impressed with Slumdog Millionaire. I swear I am not just projecting.

I WANT: To know why Debra Messing keeps getting work. The people who wrote the teleprompter copy try to make a virtue out of the fact that all five of this year's nominees have been nominees before. Because it's so great when the same lineup just repeats ad nauseam.
I PREDICT: Tina Fey, and she wins, no doubt in a landslide. Everyone's hoping for some Sarah Palin action, but I'm sure they're not gonna get any. If I had the time to install a poll, this is what it would be: "Does everyone in the room at the Golden Globes most want to sleep with Kate Winslet or Tina Fey?" She uses her speech to take down three haters on the internet; she seriously calls them out by handle.

8:50 During this commercial break, it is occurring to me that we still have the Cecil B. DeMille Award to deal with, which always takes 68 minutes; and the recipient is Steven Spielberg; and we already know that Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise are both in the audience. So I might need to step out quickly to the Walgreens, or go a little further down the street and make good on that Stella Artois plug that I dropped higher up.

8:52 Is it because I'm getting older, or because of my bad TV reception, or because of some Body Snatchers-type situation that I cannot tell these people apart? There's a woman in the audience, wearing a dress in the magenta family, and I thought she was Amanda Seyfried, and then I realized that she was Michelle Pfeiffer, but it turns out that she's actually Cameron Diaz. Which is good, if you're Cameron. You want to be mistaken for Michelle Pfeiffer, and my confusion strongly implies that she isn't wearing one of those tragic, dirty, unpressed, good idea but badly executed gowns that always let you know that it's Cameron Diaz. But seriously, what's wrong with me?

8:54 HOW DID I KNOW THIS WAS NEXT? Spielberg Hour. He's sitting there with Chynna Phillips Kate Capshaw. Martin Scorsese's on stage: "When I think of Steven Spielberg, I think of history." This opening line lets us know that this tribute will begin with the creation of the Pyramids and catch us up, year by year, to the present moment.

8:56 The producers just did a sort of sonic cross-fade where Scorsese's remarks at the mic suddenly morphed into a solemn, pre-recorded meditation. No surprise that Schindler's List is the first movie that gets a shout-out within Marty's tribute, but who'd have guessed that Amistad would be second?

8:57 Here's a secret, never before divulged: I'd love to teach a Steven Spielberg class, because so many of his movies inspire such ambivalence in me, and all of them, even the great ones and the bad ones, make me curious to see them again and test my initial reactions. I'd love to see The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun and Jurassic Park again, and even stuff I couldn't deal with the first time around, like the last two thirds of War of the Worlds. One glaring exception to this overall rule is Catch Me If You Can. I'm not even remotely tempted. And a more obvious exception is The Terminal, which was an unqualified ordeal.

9:00 Kind of fun to re-think Spielberg's career in the added context of clips from movies that he produced or exec-produced, and TV shows that he directed or produced. Y'all thought I'd just be bringing the snark, right? But you've gotta hand it to Spielberg. Whatever else there is to say about him, he's accomplished an incredible lot, and he's pushed a lot of his own boundaries, and a lot of other people's boundaries. Everyone in the room has either worked with him or wants to.

9:03 Who knew that Spielberg felt so indebted to Cecil B. DeMille? And again, I'm being sincere: I love the idea that a little kid saw The Greatest Show on Earth, which it's so hard for me not to think of as just a totally crappy movie, and that he extrapolated an entire life's calling out of it. The audience is eating up this story, but Clint Eastwood especially is eating up this story. Little moment for the old dudes. Also eating it up: Drew Barrymore.

9:05 Fabulous idea to give a shout-out to the importance of professional mentoring. Though I wish his examples of glorious apprenticeship didn't all add up to A History of Straight White Guys Handing Each Other the Magic Keys.

9:07 Totally loving this part, paraphrased: "We can't bow to economic pressure to only make movies that appeal to huge audiences; we also have to make movies that appeal to individuals in our audiences." Way to go on that speech, Steven, especially since people might actually listen to you. Or, if Steven thinks this, it might reflect that other people in Hollywood already agree with him. Which would be great, in 9 out of 10 cases. (As long as Christmas 2010 doesn't somehow turn into Revolutionary Road 2: The New Neighbors! But you know, I'm not worried.)

9:10 Wynonna Judd and her big bag of hot mess are endorsing a new weight-loss drug. I love Wynonna, but I don't know if I — you know how some people are every two years on Oprah's couch, saying that this time, they've finally got their stuff together? Try not to take pharmaceutical recommendations from those people.

9:12 Dustin and Emma! Emma does the shushing. Seems like her needle is tipping a little on the Crazy side. I'm fine with that. I think that the Teleprompter is maybe melting or something. No one, all night — no one seems to know what's going on, or where to look, or what is happening. If Emma Thompson can't figure out what's happening, there is a prob. lem.

I WANT: Again, "want" isn't the word, but Stephen Daldry.
I PREDICT: I said Fincher earlier today, but now, it's clearly Slumdog's night.

9:14 Danny Boyle, to the HFPA: "Your mad, pulsating affliction for our film is very much appreciated." Oops, he said "affection." Not sure how I made that mistake. Just can't figure it out. Isn't it funny, though, how the sentence still made sense? How delicious of him to thank the actors, whom he quite visibly had no facility with whatsoever, based on the evidence of the film.

Okay, whatever, I'll stop.

9:16 Sigourney, wearing one of those dresses that Michelle Obama sometimes rocks: "Yeah, I bought it off the rack, and it's cotton blend, and I look fab. Keep up with me, people." She's intro'ing Revolutionary Road, because she = The Ice Storm = Crisis in Connecticut.

I WANT: Last Chance Harvey to be even better than it looks, or Pineapple Express to be way better than it looks. Franco not here.
I PREDICT: Farrell. Corrrrect. Is Farrell a weeper? It would seem so! Are we about to experience one of those I'm Actually a Sensitive Guy situations? (I am happy for you, T!) I didn't care for Farrell in the movie, but this is why I love speeches: he's obviously completely besotted with this script and feels overwhelmed to have won for a movie he's so proud of. He offers to give Brendan Gleeson one hemisphere from his Globe. He philosophizes that "curiosity is love." The speech is very sweet but reminds me just a wee bit of lectures I give where I sort of lose my own thread a little.

9:22 I think the producers are cutting to pre-taped footage here, but it sure looks like everyone is already hob-nobbing and rubbing while Colin is finishing his speech. And, tell me if I'm wrong, but I think Brad Pitt maybe just leaned forward and farted at his table, and cracked himself up? Anyone else catch that? If so, that's Coen Brad for you, who doesn't necessarily charm the socks off of me, but he's so much better than Benjamin Brad.

9:26 "Ladies and gentlemen, actress and producer, Salma Hayek!" It still sounds like all of Mumbai is celebrating the Slumdog wins in the back of the room. Why is everyone so loud? The Vicky Cristina Barcelona clip shows how funny Cruz is in the movie, but also how miserably edited and indifferently shot it is. Sigh

9:28 Sasha Baron Cohen tries three jokes, and they're all lame. Seriously. Plastic surgery jokes. Charlie Sheen sex jokes. And a deeply mean-spirited Madonna divorce joke, that the whole room loudly and appropriately boos. He really seems like such a —

I WANT: Burn After Reading, which is a total hoot with great, sharp edges
I PREDICT: Happy-Go-Lucky, which is perfectly acceptable. (Meryl is still scowling at Sasha. Love her.)

WHOA! It's Vicky Cristina Barcelona! You gotta hand it to Nathaniel, who did predict this. And you gotta hand it to Woody. This is a pretty huge deal! And here's Woody's sister, who technically produced the movie. But Harvey Weinstein's hulking around, so it's hard to know how much of her own producing she was allowed to do. I'm pretty blown away by this win, and by hearing someone say "Patty Clarkson" at the microphone. Nice to see a comedy that isn't a musical, isn't a period piece, and isn't even a high-concept situation win the prize: obviously, people liked the movie and thought it was funny. Even if I don't share their enthusiasm, I like the spirit of this win.

9:32 You know the ceremony's almost over, because all of the semi-celebrities are racing to get their pictures taken on their camera phones with the actual celebrities. Though the tables are smashed too close together for any of the Slumdog kids to get close to the front-rowers, like Brad and Angie.

9:34 Visit and donate to the fight against breast cancer! Another ad I'm happy to reiterate. Stella Artois and breast cancer. My causes of the evening, but definitely not in that order.

9:36 Amy Adams thinks Freida Pinto is beautiful. For sure, Freida is working the heck out of a truly unusual color. Sort of Dijon Mustard After Dark.

I WANT: Hathaway! I like all five actresses a lot, but hers is the only performance that doesn't seem much lesser than her own best work.
I PREDICT: Hathaway! Younger gal + big star + fashionista. As good a Globes recipe as any.

But no! Kate Winslet wins a second time, which apparently answers my earlier inquiry vis-à-vis her and Tina Fey. I can't quite work out why Sam Mendes looks so overgrown, and why he doesn't seem all that able to enjoy this moment, though he does give her quite the hug. Not my business. Kate = obviously overwhelmed, and also = a total doll. Again remembers to thank the writer of the original novel. Well played, and still happening...

9:41 A gorgeous tribute to Leo, followed by a lovely one to Sam. Those who don't keep up with the press will be forgiven for being confused about which one she's married to.

9:42 Kate obviously wins the award for All-Time Most Moved to Win an Award. Everything I said about Colin Farrell times at least seven.

Still 9:42 Indeed, why are Blake Lively and Rainn Wilson presenting — oh wait, it isn't what I thought. But it's not what Blake and Rainn thought, either. Why does no one know what's going on??

I WANT: You know I completely don't care.
I PREDICT: Mad Men? Mad Men. Whatever. I missed my moment to say: Anne, Angelina, Meryl, Kristin, and Kate all looked extraordinarily beautiful. Perhaps the glammiest, loveliest category ever seen on a TV. (While typing this, I think I heard the producer or creator or whatever of Mad Men celebrate the fact that Jon Hamm won, but I thought that Jon Hamm didn't win? Are we experiencing a postmodern multiplication of competing and truthy narratives? Or did he just mess up? Or if he says Jon Hamm won, does he strategically feel that everyone will believe it to be true?)

9:48 An ad for an anti-depressant called Abilify, which seems like a horrible Orwellian monsterword, just cautioned people to call their doctors if they start to experience thoughts of suicide while taking the drug. In addition, it may induce a coma, or even death. Just like the middle hour of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I only put it that way because the first hour is a coma, and the last hour is like death.

I WANT: Mickey Rourke, but don't tell Sean.
I PREDICT: Sean, and you can tell Mickey, cuz I think he probably thinks the same thing.

Susan Sarandon says "The Curious Case of Benjamin Britten" which for any number of reasons, several of them related to Billy Budd and also to buggery, is a movie I'd strongly prefer to have seen.

9:50 MICKEY ROURKE!! Now, we're talking. Finally something to get really excited about. YAY!! I can't believe I'm so electrified and heart-full to see this straggly, sunglasses-wearing man accept a prize. And he right away thanks his new, young agent for "having the balls." I'm already into it.

9:52 Darren Aronofsky looks almost as proud of Mickey as he was of Rachel. Mickey calls him "a really special director" and thanks him for fighting to have him in the movie. He checks in to make sure he got Peter Rice's name right. He thanks Axl Rose for donating "Sweet Child o' Mine" for no money whatsoever. Mickey is so obviously telling all of it exactly how it happened.

And then he thanks all of his dogs, living as well as dead. That is right up there with thanking the taco girl. It's a little bit hard to blame the Globes producers for cutting in with the peppy music, but I really, really wanted to know what was coming after that. Lucky dogs! You've said that before, but now, it makes more sense than ever. Lucky dogs! Thanked on the Globes, even in memoriam. Congrats, Mickey!

9:55 The Williams sisters (think: tennis) vs. the Manning brothers (think: NFL) in a pretty freaking fantastic commercial for Double Stuff Oreos. I owe a lot of good memories to Double Stuff Oreos, and now I can include this commercial. Definitely my favorite of the night, although I feel that I should supply this disclaimer based on personal experiences: Double Stuff Oreos can also result in an abrupt coma. Seriously, if you buy some, you better watch out for that.

I WANT: The Reader, but how is that the best they could do?
I PREDICT: Slumdog Millionaire, though I've done nothing to deserve it. Will Tom dance if it wins? Will the audience? Will it rain inside the dining hall? Will there suddenly be a train, or a giant communal waterboarding in a vat of Veuve Clicquot?

Nope, just a gathering of all the talent. Whatever. Congratulations, guys.

Meanwhile, I hope you all enjoyed this! My hands hurt a little, and my head's a little light, but as I look around the room at the Globes, I'm guessing that I'm not alone. Check back tomorrow for the conclusion to my Top Ten List for 2008, and keep checking back through the rest of Oscar season!

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Still Opening Presents

After a Kate Winslet double-feature—I thought The Reader had much more integrity and credible artistry, but it's Revolutionary Road that I'm thinking about more—I only have one more gift to unwrap from 2008 before I can finalize my Top Ten List for the year and get cracking in some other categories. I'll still be missing some titles that haven't hit Chicago yet (The Secret of the Grain) or that departed too quickly (Momma's Man), plus a few more peripherals from Tuya's Marriage to Pineapple Express, but one has to draw the line somewhere.

In Bruges shows up on both of my favorite Top Ten lists that I've read so far, from Guy and Nathaniel. I love the detail and personality of the choices and the write-ups, and they sway me to try to reconsider the films on which we disagree. And I feel even worse now for falling asleep a half-hour into Heartbeat Detector. I had moved the day before, and I shouldn't have been sitting before a slowly-building French drama. I'll track it down eventually.

Another film that Nathaniel and Guy both endorse on their Top Ten lists is Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, which got a fabulous boost from the august National Society of Film Critics. I love the Hanna Schygulla prize for The Edge of Heaven; I loved that performance, which is currently short-listed for my own Best Supporting Actress list, and I loved it especially because a) I had no idea while watching the movie that this was Hanna Schygulla, b) I had no idea it was a performance that anyone else was clocking, and c) I actually thought at some point in the film, "This amazing actress has a sort of Hanna Schygulla quality." It's a lovely bit of acting in a fabulous movie, but I wonder if the performance will work as well if you head into the movie expecting a standard "critics prize" sort of performance. If you see it, let me know. Hopefully, I'll have more to say about supporting actresses later today for Stinky's Blogathon.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Go Ahead, Make My Year

Lucifer Rising (1981), dir. Kenneth Anger; image © Fantoma Films

One thing I'd like to do more of in the new year is fill some gaps with directors whose work I haven't explored much, or only in a skewed way, or not at all. Without leaving myself entirely to my own devices, I'd love to solicit your opinions. I'll (mostly) name the directors, and you tell me what to rent. I'll see where consensus starts to build, and hopefully I'll get around to these titles sometime in the next twelve months. What do you say?

KENNETH ANGER - I saw lots of his stuff, but quite a while ago, and I missed a few of the later, purportedly even crazier films. What should I revisit or look at next?

SHARUNAS BARTAS - Has anyone run into the work of this Lithuanian endurance-tester? Got any tips?

YOUSSEF CHAHINE - The Siskel Film Center is showing a lot of the late Egyptian master's work this month. Besides the Alexandra films, what's essential?

CARL-THEODOR DREYER - If we set aside Vampyr and Joan of Arc, what impresses you most in his filmography?

CLINT EASTWOOD - Are Bird, White Hunter, Black Heart, and A Perfect World as great as they say? Are any of those late '90s and early '00s policiers worth catching up with? How about Pale Rider or Heartbreak Ridge? I've got holes to fill and a mind to make up.

BARBARA HAMMER - A pioneer of feminist and queer filmmaking, but I haven't paid her the full attention she deserves. Guide me!

EMIR KUSTURICA - Haven't even dipped a toe, and he's a major world figure. Who's got a favorite?

ANTHONY MANN - Revered by many, but I haven't seen a frame. Where to start? Is Winchester '73 too obvious?

JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE - I've been sitting out of the whole recent resurgence in his work, but the shame and the curiosity are building. Tell me what I have to see first, or what I can put off till later. Will it matter if I'm not a huge noir guy?

VINCENTE MINNELLI - Every time I see one of his, it changes my impression of him, and I love the generic diversity. I've seen: Meet Me in St. Louis, Yolanda and the Thief, An American in Paris, The Band Wagon, Tea and Sympathy, Gigi, Some Came Running, and On a Clear Day... I'm most curious about The Bad and the Beautiful and Two Weeks in Another Town, but am happy to take other cues.

KENJI MIZOGUCHI - Where to go next if I was floored by Sanshô?

YASUJIRO OZU - I'm embarrassed to say that I've only seen Tokyo Story, and I have missed two public presentations of The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums. Where should I start bettering myself?

MICHAEL POWELL (and EMERIC PRESSBURGER) - Tilda will never date me if I don't get my act together a little better. Fans seem to have different favorites. What's yours? I've seen The Edge of the World, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, and Peeping Tom, and I liked them all. I Know Where I'm Going, A Matter of Life and Death, and Colonel Blimp are screaming for attention, but is there a preferred order here?

SATYAJIT RAY - I need to finish the Apu trilogy, but then, where next? I'm tempted by The Music Room.

ROBERTO ROSSELLINI - Some great stuff bowing soon on DVD from Criterion and Eclipse, but what's your favorite Rossellini film?

OUSMANE SEMBENE - I am gaga for Xala and quite wild about Mandabi. Who has a favorite Sembene film?

FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT - Sometimes I get it (400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, Stolen Kisses), sometimes I totally don't (Jules et Jim). Day for Night is pleasant, but I almost prefer the choked and flawed but kind of bravely cold The Green Room. I saw Adèle H. a hundred years ago. Is this helping you pick a next title for me to screen?

FREDERICK WISEMAN - Not fabulously treated by DVD, but I'll grab what I can find. What's most essential here?

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy Birthday, Todd Haynes

Thanks for all the memories and inspirations, Todd, and for all the future projects. My very, very favorite is still Safe, a film that's all about the vulnerability—maybe the indistinguishability?—of inside and outside, and the scary porousness of borders, including psychological boundaries, and including the skin. Is Carol's cure worse than, or part of, her sickness? Nobody knows, but the dissolve from her hospital room to the deserts of Wrenwood is portentous, and totally apropos.

Safe, 1:06:12, © 1995 Sony Pictures Classics/American Playhouse/Chemical Films

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

New Year's is my favorite holiday for the same reason that dissolves are my favorite formal device in movies. I don't know whether I prefer New Year's Eve, as a chance for reflecting back upon the year, or New Year's Day, launching forward into a whole new series of "firsts" and of hopefully emended habits. As in the dissolve, the outgoing and the incoming are held in momentary, overlapping suspension, and I love the sense of smooth continuity from the past to the future, notwithstanding the certain feeling that a change is in progress. I love how dissolves can endow movies with lightness, delicacy, and circumspection, and that you're never quite sure whether the dissolve is dramatically motivated (i.e., a cue for a flashback or a fantasy) or whether the filmmakers have chosen it primarily for texture, like chefs and musicians do when they add a flavor or a note for their own, accentuating sake.

I love when the superimposed images turn out to resonate with or even decode each other, if you're paying enough attention to the brief moment when they share the screen. I love how the dissolve can suggest symbolic associations without seeming to bonk you over the head, because the moment whisks by so fast. I love Tarkovsky, Ophuls, Sternberg, Dash, and Welles for their dissolves. I love when a director I associate more with rectilinear frames and strong cuts, like Stanley Kubrick or Todd Haynes, suddenly opts for the softness of the dissolve. I love that even when the world seems unduly wracked with nerves and threats and broken cease-fires, history can quietly dissolve from one year to another, right in the middle of the night, and you remember that time is not a series of studded events, but a pliant and sensuous flow.

Eyes Wide Shut, 0:03:24, © 1999 Warner Bros. Pictures