Sunday, May 31, 2009

Supporting Actress Smackdown 1992

Just look at how perturbed the normally wan Ruth Wilcox has become upon learning that she did not win StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown for 1992. I totally feel her; though either a Redgrave or a Davis win would easily have ranked among my all-time favorites in the category, I'm especially awestruck by how much Redgrave achieves, implies, and obfuscates in a short run of extremely delicate scenes. She gets how much the audience should and shouldn't know about Ruth, and she's poignant, gorgeous, gratuitous, and a little creepy. All the more remarkable if you know that she was filming in stretches of just a few days apiece while flying back and forth to the Middle East to protest the first Gulf War. One suspects Joan Plowright was not doing the same on days when the Enchanted April call sheet was all Josie or all Miranda.

I had really hoped to participate in this month's Smackdown (as had Nathaniel, apparently), so here's a public apology to Stinky. Admittedly, the recent rules about heart distribution would have felled me. Judy (more here) and Vanessa (more here and here) would both have demanded five from me, and I'm kind of a two-hearter on all of the other three performances, though I haven't seen Damage or April in a while. I started rewatching Damage a while ago as preparation for this exercise, but the lugubrious pacing and direction and all-time-worst use of Juliette Binoche (by Malle, by the stylist, and by Binoche herself) quickly started doing me in.

In terms of my own preferences, according to Oscar years of eligibility, my list would probably go Davis, her castmate Juliette Lewis, Rosie Perez in White Men Can't Jump, Redgrave, and Richardson in The Crying Game, with a possible sub-in of Kaycee Moore in Daughters of the Dust. Pfeiffer's great in Batman Returns, but I remember her as a lead. Plus, there's tons of important work from '92 that I haven't seen or not in a while, so take these suggestions with a half-grain of salt. Except the endorsements of Judy and Vanessa: they're indelible.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Reviews This Delicious...

...deserve to be cited in full, with all due respect to their original source at the Daily Telegraph:

The Jonas Brothers 3-D Concert Experience
(* out of *****) That's one dimension per Jonas, which is about right: the singer thinks he’s Jagger, the frizzy one jumps about a lot, and the young one does a hideously unappealing squealy-anguish thing with his voice. Hate the songs. What a lot of hair they have. Don't ask me the names.

You've all long ago bookmarked the Tim Robey index, right? If not, I cannot guess why. Meanwhile, jewels of first-run critique like this as well as the delicious bon mots of the past I keep uncovering while doing my research and teaching on American film reviews have prompted a new sidebar fixture. "Wish I'd Written That" even applies in cases like the inaugural one, when I certainly don't wish I'd seen the movie, but I can enviously admire the succinct pertness of this response all the same. I'll figure out a place to archive these as they rotate; your job is to keep checking back.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

One Step Forward...

I've mostly been staying off the political soapbox on this blog, but on a day when one hugely exciting political breakthrough hits simultaneously with an announcement of yet another legal-political insult to gays, lesbians, and other queer-identified folks—reminding me of just how it felt last November when the nation's giant step forward in the Oval Office was accompanied and (understandably) overwhelmed in the news cycle by a statewide referendum against the legal personhood of LGBTs... I don't know that I have anything to say about it so much as I just feel like sighing. Publicly.

Once you've caught your breath and feel able to do something more productive than sighing, especially if you live in New York state and can fairly expect your legislators to listen to you, consider reading up on the Empire State Pride Agenda's efforts to pass marriage-equality statutes in New York, and think about donating just a little to the cause. Or, if you're a non-New Yorker, the Human Rights Campaign is still going strong with its national push on this issue, but they can always, of course, use your help. One dislikes the feeling of paying into a campaign for rights that should automatically, equally, and freely accrue to the full citizenry... but hey, one also dislikes sitting back and fuming at the computer without putting some money where your blog is. Scrape it together, people.

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Monday, May 25, 2009


Even if you thought you were following the Cannes reportage closely, you weren't. If you can't match these taglines to their proper films—and, God help you, if you can—you simply need to follow Tim's instructions and click over to this two-part Guardian catalogue of the scintillating wares being hawked in the notorious Market section of the festival:

"It's Our World. It's Their Island."
"Perhaps the Scariest Norwegian Movie Ever!"
"Someone Has Your Phone and Your Life."
(same film, same poster:) "His Voice Destroys Me"
"Shatter Your Belief in Reality"
"If You're Going to Play, You Need to Bring Your Balls"
"Payback Is a Bastard"
"Estonia's Lavishly Produced New Historical Thriller"
"These Guys Are the Hero of Recession Era?" [sic]
"He's Scarier. He's Hairier. He's Terrier!"
"Nice to Have Your Friends for Dinner"
"The Crystal Meth House Is Haunted"
"One Will Die for Every Incorrect Answer"
"Share This Story with Your Love, She Will Laugh with You"

Amidst all of this, the latest and laudably reviewed film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, which makes it all even weirder. And also the Junebug scribe is finally back, penning a policier for Robert De Niro and Edward Norton. And then, with even less hoopla, a Soderbergh-produced film with Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, and Mary-Louise Parker? What went wrong there? And why is Liliana Cavani, of Night Porter fame, making sunny-looking Einstein biopics?

Also: you're only hurting yourself if you don't click over my thumbnail image and relish not just the title and the premise but the headlining stars of this production. Out of the blue, indeed. Now, raise your hands if you're ready to admit that you'd rather watch Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus or Gnaw or whatever this is than Map of the Sounds of Tokyo or Johnny Halliday in Vengeance.

P.S. Too good to be true!! This debuts on DVD tomorrow, and as the 513th best-selling DVD on Amazon, which I'm sure you'll agree is Not Nothing.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cannes Winner Realities

As I believe I indicated before proceeding into a massive list of errors, I am awesome at forecasting the prize winners at Cannes. You're probably reeling from my uncanny knack for prognostication. Granted, if you lop off my two top predictions for the Palme, neither of which scored a single thing, nor did the one film that I predicted to cop two awards, I cited most of the right movies but in the wrong contexts: my "this is too obvious" canards about The White Ribbon and A Prophet translated into denials of the obvious, and the jury got excited about Wild Grass, Fish Tank, and Kinatay. I always wish the Technical Grand Prize were compulsory, and I haven't heard anything about the Ecumenical Jury's pick, which is usually interesting—all the more so since I just yesterday saw Adoration, their '08 selection—but all in all, this slate of prize winners (indexed in greater depth here) promises some provocative nights at the movies in the next, oh, 18 months or so that it will take American distributors to get them all into theaters, if even then. Hold out hope.

(Note: The awards don't do much to change my relative enthusiasm for the Competition titles, though I do have to credit Isabelle Huppert with even more chutzpah than I thought she might have. Not for her, to go out of her way to avoid giving top prizes to famed collaborators or to French countrymen. Screw how it "looks"—and one must admit, the two best-reviewed Competition movies scored the two top prizes, even though lots of the other awards defied critical consensus in various ways.)

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Cannes Winner Predictions

I'll be proven wrong in just a matter of hours, but why not take a stab? Especially after blowing my calls in almost every category last year.

PALME D'OR Vincere, dir. Marco Bellocchio
(alt. The Time that Remains, dir. Elia Suleiman)
I'm guessing that The White Ribbon would look too obviously like Huppert/Haneke nepotism and that A Prophet could have that Gomorrah problem of being too obviously the "front-runner." Other possibilities for the Palme or the Grand Jury or Jury prizes: Fish Tank, Wild Grass, Kinatay, Enter the Void, and that delicious cherry-bomb Antichrist.

BEST DIRECTOR Alain Resnais, Wild Grass
(alt. Jacques Audiard, A Prophet)
Often a hideout for the filmmaker people expected to get the Palme, so Bellocchio could get in here if Vincere isn't the choice for the top prize; odds go a bit out on Haneke, who's won this before, and on Suleiman

BEST ACTRESS Katie Jarvis, Fish Tank
(alt. Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Vincere)

BEST ACTOR François Cluzet, À l'origine
(alt. Tahar Rahim or Niels Arestrup, A Prophet)
Dussolier for the Resnais film or Suleiman starring for himself aren't bad options, especially if the films' chances are scuppered elsewhere

(alt. The White Ribbon)
It seems insane to predict two prizes for a barely heralded film, but much weirder things have happened at Cannes; the Almodóvar, Suleiman, Campion, and Bellocchio could easily figure here.

TECHNICAL GRAND PRIZE Bright Star, Greig Fisher


Meanwhile, here are the Main Competition films in roughly the order in which I'm eager to see them, with links to the IFC blog entries about reactions to each film: Bright Star, Antichrist, Enter the Void, Fish Tank, A Prophet, Wild Grass, The White Ribbon, Face/Visage, Kinatay, Vincere, Broken Embraces, Spring Fever, Inglourious Basterds, The Time that Remains, In the Beginning/À l'origine, Map of the Sounds of Tokyo, Thirst, Looking for Eric, Taking Woodstock, and Vengeance... although non-Competition screenings like Police, Adjective, Polytechnique, Hierro, My Neighbor, My Killer, Tales from the Golden Age, A Brand New Life, I Killed My Mother, and especially Dogtooth, Precious, and To Die Like a Man apparently outclass most of the Palme contenders.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

IFC Marks the Spot

One of the perils of my staying off so many websites, unless they're linked from the handful I visit every day, is that I am often The Last to Know, so I only have myself to blame for the fact that I've only recently understood that when David Hudson left GreenCine Daily, he took up shop at IFC and spectacularly enriched and expanded the coverage at the The Daily @ IFC.Com, currently (as had been the case at GreenCine when David managed it) the most comprehensive, trenchant, and thought-provoking blog of film news that I have found anywhere on the web. It's taken me a while to catch up on lots of back entries, but the IFC Blog is especially crucial now, since it's bubbling with fantastic and frequently updated Cannes coverage. Economics being what they are, almost no one who usually covers Cannes is doing a very good job this year, or any kind of job at all: the New York Times' attention has been pitiful and distant, and it wasn't until yesterday that the newly imagined GreenCine, compelling though it is in its different, non-Hudsonian way, even acknowledged that Cannes is taking place.

If you want to know the scuttlebut about the new Campion (great news, it turns out!), the new Audiard, the new Kore-eda, the new Coppola, the new Bong, the new Costa, the new De Van, the Up premiere, the European bow of Precious, about anything else Cannes-related (beyond what's on their own delicious but complicated site, including press conferences and great photos), or about anything else movie-related, IFC is an indispensable pit-stop. But then, you probably knew that already. (And thanks, David, for plugging my own plug for this book!)

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Buy the Book: Fifty Key American Films

While I collect my thoughts about the best of last year's performances by leading actresses, while I try to figure out why I was so stultified and put off by the Star Trek movie that everone seems to love, and while I subliminally urge you at all hours of the day to get thee hence toward Julia (reviewed here) and Sin Nombre, by far the grandest achievements currently showing on American movie screens, I shall less subliminally urge you to purchase a copy of Fifty Key American Films, a new book from Routledge Press that gathers together short essays by a variety of scholars on an unusual mélange of movies that proved pivotal, in one way or another, to film history in the U.S.A. The twist for these essays was that contributors were asked to sketch some of the broad strokes about what makes these films important and compelling, but also suggest some new directions that scholarship and thought about these movies might pursue.

Do I have anything personally invested in you buying and enjoying this book? How funny you should ask! I wrote the meditations on Dorothy Arzner's The Wild Party, Pixar's The Incredibles, and Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, the last two emerging as the chronologically latest films collected in the volume. Other contributors chime in about The Birth of a Nation, Sunrise, Freaks, Modern Times, Cat People, The Searchers, The Misfits, West Side Story, Night of the Living Dead, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Taxi Driver, Blade Runner, Aliens, Daughters of the Dust, Short Cuts, Dead Man, and Se7en. For the full list of titles, you'll have to buy the book—which is easier to do in Britain, since is happy to sell an actual book rather than the Kindle-only edition available on If you want to buy the book stateside, even though I am all about, you might also consider a direct purchase from the publisher.

Here are three short samples from my pieces, if they serve to drum up any extra interest:

On The Wild Party:
"The Wild Party was a sizeable hit for Arzner and for actress Clara Bow, a major star making her first appearance in a sound film. [Judith] Mayne reminds us how much the Paramount bosses must have trusted Arzner to enlist her as the shepherd for Bow’s transition into talking pictures. Yet what a frisky and peculiar picture The Wild Party is, showcasing Bow and protecting Paramount's investment without straining for "event" status. Compare The Wild Party to Sam Taylor's Coquette (1929), the bathetic and maladroit vehicle that ushered Mary Pickford into the sound era during the same year, and The Wild Party's spry energy and democratic embrace of multiple characters and subplots is all the more obvious. The film begins not with a bang or a sigh but with a giggle: Arzner's coterie of excitable co-eds titter off-screen while we behold a "Winston '30" pennant. The film immediately proposes school pride as a recognized value while simultaneously challenging such pride with generous doses of pent-up energy and jovial iconoclasm. Making excuses for her studious roommate and best friend Helen, [Bow's] Stella exclaims, "Someone’s gotta work around here—we don’t!" The Wild Party in fact keeps us guessing whether anyone else at Winston works, and whether they should, and at what."

On The Incredibles:
"Fans and critics alike invariably cited Bob's perturbed pronouncement that "they keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity." The archvillain, Syndrome, raises the stakes of this lament, weaving the recurrent Pixar anxiety about dubious commodities into his full-frontal assault on the gifted and talented: "When I'm old and I've had my fun, I'll sell my inventions so that everyone can have powers! Everyone can be super! And when everyone's 'super,' no one is!".... The trajectory of Dash, who intuits this same contradiction earlier in the film, challenges a pure-exceptionalist reading of The Incredibles. His family simultaneously cheers, micromanages, and confuses him on his way to the silver medal, and in his last line in the movie, indeed the last line spoken by any Incredible, he admits to his beaming Dad and Mom, "I didn't know what the heck you wanted me to do!" At this instant, the Underminer, the last in the movie's series of villains, crashes through the asphalt of the stadium parking lot. As the Parrs apply their superhero masks, the movie lays their images over the Underminer's stentorian threats: "I hereby declare war on peace and happiness! Soon all will tremble before me!" Does the family’s collective recommitment, then, to their extraordinary abilities entail its own kind of "war on peace and happiness," the very sort of pandemonium which prompted the outlawing of superheroes in the prologue? Is the superfamily as threatening to social order as the outcast or resurgent antagonist? In that sense, do the Underminer's endowments of evil genius and wit ("I am always beneath you, but nothing is beneath me!") invite comparison with the Incredibles' gifts for public crusading? The dizzying layers of nuance embedded across the film—right through these final, paradoxical tropes of violent eruption and reclaimed identity, ironized here as masked identity—trouble the stakes of exceptional self-realization, even as the movie appears to promote that principle."

On Brokeback Mountain:
"Brokeback Mountain is something old and something new, a threnody for outlawed ideals and felled amour, for Western grandeur and sublime loneliness, so romantic (indeed, Romantic) in its images and so elemental in its montage that D.W. Griffith could, with one momentous exception, have made it. That the eulogized lovers of this American pastoral are two male sheep-herders, Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), patently distinguishes Brokeback Mountain as a contemporary artifact. Then again, after more than a century of American cinema, the idea of homosexuality as an impossible love, an impossible life, particularly beneath the wide-brimmed hats and cerulean skies of the mythologized West, feels trans-historically familiar, a pure form of what the popular cinema has never embraced. By giving rich, spectacular life to such a romance, while maintaining the rule of a tragic trajectory—even today, few closets brim with as many skeletons as the celluloid closet does—Brokeback Mountain rehearses Platonic visions of majestic nature, of the aloof rancher and solitary rider, of the passion least likely to survive the political and thematic mandates of American movies, even as the film rejects the platonic in its small-p connotations of sexless disavowal. The film tells an old story (star-crossed lovers) in a new idiom ("gay cowboys"), or else a new story (men in loving bliss with men) in an old idiom (tombs and tears).
      "Thus this film, with its penchant for aphorism and its unexpected preoccupation with hetero marriage and bridal desires, is also something borrowed and something blue. Borrowed, yes, from the pages of Annie Proulx’s short story, softening her robust evocations of poverty and her hardscrabble spondees ("sleep-clogged," "broke-dick," "clothes-pole," "dick-clipped") with shimmering landscapes and gliding edits, but also from the long lines of antique weepies and queer doomsdays that prepare American film audiences for this otherwise sui generis drama. "Blue" not just in its resplendent vistas and sun-dappled lakes—"boneless blue" in Proulx’s words, another Big Eden in the lingo of modern gay film—but also, increasingly, in its emotional temperature and acoustic moods."

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Leading Men, a Few Months Late

I know you all thought I had a) fallen back into my coma, and b) long ago abandoned any hope of finishing the Best of 2008 feature. Maybe by now you're bored of the idea that I'm in fact awake and still, in slow accretions, working toward the finish line on these Honorees. Thankfully, I've been in the middle of revising a scholarly article that turns heavily on performance description, which has reignited by impulses to sing the praises of more recent turns by consummate actors. And the work by my eight—yes, eight—Best Actor choices was so exemplary that there was no way I was whittling them down more than that, or forcing myself to be succinct in my praise. "Too much of a good thing" is rarely an expression for which I have any use.

Forgive me for not being ready with the 2007 equivalents, which I had steadily been doing for my last couple announcements, but you know what happens if I keep thinking of reasons to postpone. If you must know, were I ready to write up my Best Actors of 2007, they'd have the names Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Del Toro (Things We Lost in the Fire), Jones (In the Valley of Elah), Mühe (The Lives of Others), and Pinsent (Away from Her). Hopefully, I'll still get to them.

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