Saturday, February 11, 2012

Best of 2011: Visual Effects

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (RUSSELL EARL, ET AL.)
... because hokey or sleek, quick or sustained, every effect is plausible and each one has genuine personality, like elements of a zippy score;

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (JOE LETTERI, ET AL.)
... because I admire the prodigious technical achievement, staged across a variety of settings, even if I felt a little colder than I expected;

... because all the mitoses and mitochondria, the cosmos and the corpuscles, feel staggeringly true, thematically vital, and gorgeously abstract.

Runners-Up: I didn't see a lot of the movies that make the strongest plays for this category, so I'm cutting my list off at three, which also feels like the right interval between my top picks and my also-rans. Still, my single favorite effect of the year, in hilarious timing as well as spooky execution, is the sudden evaporation of a key character in Fright Night, which continues to be a fun effect in its later reprisals. The work in X-Men: First Class was sometimes very impressive, but I admit it bugs me that the films in that franchise always seem stuck in awkward cadences: "Are you ready, we're going to show you an effect now! Here, it's happening! That was an effect!" Some of the CGI in Immortals feels oppressively heavy-handed, as it does in the very different world of a cinematic immortal in Hugo, but the peaks in both movies are aesthetically impressive, and probably very difficult at the technical level. The booms, chases, explosions, crashes, stunt coordination, and (I assume) the CGI enhancement of all of this in Fast Five are traditional enough to seem almost unremarkable, but there's no way this is just point-your-camera filmmaking, so to everyone who made such a ridiculous story so engaging, in ways that involved a matte or a mouse-pointer or a digital overlay, congrats for making me believe almost everything you did. As low-fi as they are, the creepy alterations of reality and the impending planet of Melancholia really got to me.

Films I Hated to Skip Before Posting: Attack the Block, Bellflower, Captain America: The First Avenger, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Paranormal Activity 3, Super 8, TrollHunter

Films I "Hated" to Skip Before Posting: Real Steel, Thor, Transformers: Dark of the Moon

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Best of 2011: Makeup

No thoughts on Stockard Channing? None? C'mon, people...

... for nailing gradations of disease and of bureaucratic fatigue, defamiliarizing stars, and making early, horrifying close-ups count for a lot;

... for acing the lost art of making stars look casually fabulous but also making nuances of grooming pay off as key story and character beats;

... for Jung's piano-wire primness and his wife's pallor, Freud's avuncular semi-elegance, Otto's hirsute salaciousness, Sabine's ruddy darkness;

... for the way the women, in particular, vacillate between unremarkable looks and Diane Arbus uncanniness, and for Jane's well-managed severity;

... for responding with gusto to the film's Guignol trappings, managing to make sad, bloodthirsty clowns as alien as anything in Pan's Labyrinth.

Runners-Up: Lots to recognize this year. Shortly after these five came Midnight in Paris, which found delicious and character-appropriate guises for the characters who clicked the best in other ways (Wilson, Stoll, Hiddleston DALÍ!) but also those that the movie otherwise struggled with (Sheen, McAdams, Seydoux); The Artist, with its dapper resuscitations of late-20s and early-30s cosmetic regimes in Hollywood, which probably would have been a finalist if they could have gone a little easier on Penelope Ann Miller and figured things out a little better with Beth Grant; The Iron Lady, which excels at rendering Meryl Streep as a plausibly old and broken woman, even though the work captured Margaret Thatcher at some times more than others (and the work on Carol and all the advisors and Parliamentarians was also very good); Coriolanus, which smears soldiers with clots of blood and dirt just like the best of 'em, but also finds the right looks for the Cox and Redgrave characters; Margaret, which found ingenious ways to make Paquin, Damon, Ruffalo, Broderick, and Culkin look exactly as they did in 2005 (calm down, I'm kidding...); Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which hits a lot more targets than it misses in terms of taking its actors back to the 1970s and aging some of them subtly forward; Higher Ground, which did aging on a budget better than a lot of deep-coffered studio pictures do, and which settled into a semi-rural community (in period, no less) without the usual Hollywood overlay of "Pity these poor people and their hair, oh my god their hair"; and The Ides of March, which has a great feel for the snipped, buffed, and manicured look of top-line politicians, the harried and tired look of top-line campaign managers, and the oddly glammy aspects of characters like Gosling's, Wood's, and even Minghella's, which made me wonder if they're in this game for the ideals or for the eyeballs. Rounding out the runners-up are Sleeping Beauty, which extended its aesthetic of creepily meticulous refinement to Emily Browning's bone-china whitness and Rachael Blake's intimidating chignon; and Hanna, whose weird look for the title character I eventually got used to, and which had a lot of fun with Blanchett and Hollander.

Close But Misses the Cutoff: Albert Nobbs does an ample and impressively subtle job with Close, but the iffy rendering of Hubert is a demerit, and I never really bought either character as people who'd be universally believed as men; and Meek's Cutoff, which gets the right amount of sun, dust, and grit into everyone's hair and skin and nails but way overdoes it on the Greenwood character, I think.

Films I Hated to Skip Before Posting: 13 Assassins, Anonymous, City of Life and Death, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, House of Pleasures, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Mysteries of Lisbon, Potiche

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Best Actress Birthday Party, Week 7

After last week, thank God this one's so easy... especially since real work has forced me to postpone the Suzman, Dern, and Stanley pieces for a few days. Janet famously sympathizes with the plight of the worker, Laura is totally enlightened, and Kim is already dead, so if they don't mind the delay, why should I? Further easing the load is a clerical error I discovered that had Maggie McNamara originally listed in February, though she actually belongs in June. I'm not that excited about Three Coins in the Fountain anyway, so hurrah for that! Meanwhile:

Born February 12–February 18:
Click here for the full list of entries

Feb 13: Stockard Channing (68)
New Review: ???
Stockard's Best Work: Obviously, as the one-in-a-dozen Broadway actress permitted to reprise her stage triumph in Six Degrees of Separation, where she's funny, sharp, deluded, believably frayed, and patently to the borough born.
I've Also Seen: Strutting her way through Grease, making a bigger impression on everyone, seemingly, than she did on me; as Meryl's upper-middle-class best friend who's around for a lot of ups and downs in Heartburn; as an abused wife with an eagle-eye for Adam's apples in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar; only half-trying and still more intense than the movie can really accommodate as the suicide in The First Wives Club; as the occasional ally of her husband, the President of the United States, on The West Wing, or maybe I just saw a disproportionate number of episodes where she was peeved at him; working through a complex script that asks and gets a lot from her but hasn't fully articulated itself in The Business of Strangers (my review); one of many Cadillac performers who surely thought Le Divorce would be at least a quarter as good as the amazing novel; and disappointingly glum in Woody Allen's Anything Else, although that movie would make anyone glum.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Best of 2011: Adapted Screenplay

... for taking so many perspectives seriously, and framing a woman's relation to faith in a manageable structure without tidying it up too much;

... for seeming neither cowed by a classic novel nor headstrong about unnecessary changes, managing a deft balance of creativity and due respect;

... for sliding nimbly between scenes the way a dealer shuffles cards, without sacrificing momentum or vivid characterization or emotional hooks;

... for wrestling a mazelike novel into an inevitably semi-opaque film, graced with piquant, peculiar notes that make the shadows more intriguing;

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL)
... for appropriating the odd, fanciful memoir of a Buddhist monk, infusing it with his own concerns, and leading us places no one else would go.

In the Land of Ambiguous Categorization: I'm never a fan of Adapted Screenplay nominations going to filmmakers who fertilized their own short films and cultivated them to feature length, so I'm glad that Dee Rees and Focus Features stuck to their guns and campaigned for Pariah as an original script. Still, rightly or wrongly, folks have won Oscars in the Adapted derby for succeeding less well than Rees does in this regard. If you don't know the original short, I'll just say that once upon a time, Pariah built to a central conflict over a prop that Alike literally tosses in the trash in this new version. The full-length movie is not a superficial padding of the initial scenario but a genuine expansion and, in graceful ways, a deepening and a transformation. Parental dynamics have shifted and new characters amplify the humor, the romance, and the tension. Being able to gauge and revise her material this deftly makes Rees not just a director to watch (which she is) but a writer worth keeping an eye on.

Runners-Up: Another short-ish list in a year where the heat favored the original scripts, I have to hand it to George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon for giving Willimon's play the extra oomph and narrative it needed to hold the screen in The Ides of March; Richard Curtis and Lee Hall for re-proportioning War Horse to make optimal room for Spielberg's contributions, and for limiting the bathos to much less than it might have been; to Christopher Hampton for moving some scenes around and trimming some others so that A Dangerous Method mostly feels tighter and less obvious than it did as a play; to Pedro Almodóvar for serving himself a finale that weeps and sings in The Skin I Live In, even if every subplot and temporal swerve doesn't serve the whole as well as it could; to Hossein Amini for seeing a movie in the thin narrative of Drive and writing the sleek, racing-striped, intermittently flavorful script that invited Refn's exercise in style; and to Denis Villeneuve for translating Wajdi Mouawad's Incendies in ways that don't efface the fussy unevenness of the source but aptly crystallize its strongest passages, making a fair, ambitious, sporadically effective stab at Socratic grandeur.

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Monday, February 06, 2012

Best of 2011: Supporting Actor

If you're one of the folks who's clicking through for Honorees but then dashing away—can I interest you in a real review? I'm kind of proud of this one. No? Okay.

Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
... for being smug but also astute, a rich conduit of humor but not a hammy one, and a careful articulator of the veiled theme of anti-Semitism;

Chris O'Dowd, Bridesmaids
... for being raffishly un-typecast as the flawed prince we root for, helping us to balance our attraction to and exasperation with Wiig's Annie;

Gustavo Sánchez Parra, Leap Year
... for arriving subtly into the film, uncomfortably pushing the lead around, and signaling so many motives for and feelings about what they do;

Christopher Plummer, Beginners
... for showing us a good time and seeing fully and generously into his character, without selling him into cutesy comedy or milking the sadness;

Shea Whigham, Take Shelter
... for the subtlest, steadiest gaze by which we observe the hero, expressing friendship as guys do, even as tacit sympathy tilts into distrust.

Runners-Up: Brían F. O'Byrne as the patience-tested but unexpectedly loyal ex-husband in HBO's Mildred Pierce; Corey Stoll as a beacon of wit and a rough-patch of welcome texture in Midnight in Paris; Brad Pitt, playing a man aware of his shortcomings and expressive deficiencies but nonetheless mired within them in The Tree of Life; Niels Arestrup, so elegantly warm and so eloquently aggrieved in War Horse; Sergei Puskepalis, who passes from intimidating colleague to dangerous enemy in How I Ended This Summer; and Shima Ohnishi as the physically demanding, ethically unsalvageable husband in Caterpillar, bravely submitting himself to Wakamatsu's aesthetic of florid overstatement without losing the character inside the hyperbole.

For Distinguished Group Efforts: The colorful trio of henchmen that Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, and Mark Strong bring hilariously to life in The Guard; the vivid conclave of misguided but sympathetic managers, scouts, and board members in Moneyball, extending as well to Philip Seymour Hoffman's banked flame of inextinguishable animosity; and Peter Carroll, Chris Haywood, and Hugh Keays-Byrne as the unsettled and unsettling clients in Sleeping Beauty.

Additional Runners-Up: Marton Csokas for his believable spin on what is more or less the O'Dowd role in Julie Bertuccelli's The Tree; Kenneth Lonergan for nailing the desire for camaraderie but the helplessness at real intimacy as the cross-country dad in Margaret; Bryan Cranston, who's been limping around the borderlands of petty crime for so long in Drive that he's almost forgotten how quickly it can all end; Brian Cox for his fatigue, his knack for conciliation, and his weariness with a tone-deaf leader in Coriolanus; Patton Oswalt for bringing so much color and personality to Young Adult that you almost stop begrudging what a crutch his character is; Burt Young for blurring the line between a mental fog and a shocked reaction to shabby treatment in Win Win; Shahab Hosseini, for making us wonder and worry throughout A Separation just how unstable his character is; Guy Pearce for both his flaunted and his wounded vanity in Mildred Pierce; Markus Schleinzer for an unforgettable face and a failure to play his hunches correctly in The Robber; Kiefer Sutherland for half-tolerating and half-loathing Melancholia's effulgent wedding, perking up when something truly interests him, refusing to believe that his only source of pleasure might destroy him; Ezra Miller, giving his most plausible and well-shaded spin on his troubled-youth typecasting in the Sundance drama Another Happy Day; Nick Nolte for being so moving on the lawn and in the diner and in the dark of Warrior, despite some overshooting towards the end; Jamie Bell, for so concisely forcing us to ask whether St. John is a worthy partner or a hovering trap for the heroine of Jane Eyre; Goran Visnjic for his odd, impish boyfriend in Beginners, tempting us to question his sincerity before certifying his love past all doubt; Kevin Spacey for finally showing up to play ball again in Margin Call, after what feels like years; and Charles Parnell for taking a bemused interest in his daughter's rebel streak in Pariah until, suddenly, he doesn't—though even then, he keeps re-drawing the line between empathy and aloofness.

Maybe one day I'll regret that I'm leaving out Albert Brooks and the whole Tinker Tailor crew, but as glad as I am to applaud their solid work, none of them truly interested me as much as all of these guys did.

Films I Hated to Skip Before Posting: Cold Weather, Of Gods and Men

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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Best of 2011: Original Score

... for yet another score that slinks its way fully inside a shadowy, scintillating sound design, while sustaining the film's slick 80s-pop bent;

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (ALEXANDRE DESPLAT)
... for a typically melodic, large-orchestra composition that balances the city's dynamic breadth with the jangling solitude of the protagonist;;

... for gale forces of electronica, infusing action set-pieces with humor and excitement but alert, too, to Hanna's confusions and introspection;

... for calling up Zimmer's often-mislaid sense of humor, in zesty cahoots with the film's crooked shapes, loopy dialogue, and goofball oddities;

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (ALBERTO IGLESIAS)
... for exploiting Iglesias' gifts for beauty and menace, using un-British musical idioms that cast global shadows inside this English labyrinth;

Runners-Up: In a weak year for this category, especially since I couldn't muster full enthusiasm for Ludovic Bource's peppy melodies for The Artist, Dario Marianelli sounding a shade too much like he's "doing Dario Marianelli" in Jane Eyre, and Howard Shore's low broods beneath A Dangerous Method, I'm cutting off the runners-up at three: one more hat-tip to Alberto Iglesias, paired again with frequent collaborator Pedro Almodóvar on his spindly, sidewinding, darkly translucent mystery-thriller The Skin I Live In; a salute to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who do not equal their triumph with The Social Network in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but are certainly crucial to the film's rough, sleek, if slightly uneven textures; and a round of applause to Michael Giacchino for proving himself once again as a key participant in the Bad Robot repertory, giving Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol vim, vigor, humor, and bounce, without seeming intimidated at all by Lalo Schifrin.

Films I Hated to Skip Before Posting: Cold Weather

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Best Actress Birthday Party, Week 6

This is gonna be tough, people...

Born February 5–February 11:
Click here for the full list of entries

Feb 5: Laura Linney (48)
New Review: The Laramie Project (2002)
Laura's Best Work: At the unambiguous center of a sprawling story and ensemble in Jindabyne, negotiating an entire cutlery set of conflicts, internal and external, tacit and confessed.
I've Also Seen: Cornering the market on Wholesome But Concerned in Lorenzo's Oil; still apple-cheeked as the president's mistress in Dave; the freshest-faced of all urban arrivées in Tales of the City; dressed down by Joe Mantegna as his son's schoolteacher in the unbeatable Searching for Bobby Fischer; in danger of seeming uninteresting in Primal Fear; still shaking some stiffness out of her limbs in The Truman Show (my review); a revelation, note-perfect in dramatic and comedic registers we hadn't seen yet, in the glorious You Can Count on Me (my review), though the Julliard polish comes back a bit in The House of Mirth; winning an Emmy for one of her few performances I just didn't buy, as a hard-to-love mother in Wild Iris; surely asking her agent to dream bigger after The Mothman Prophecies; swanning onto Frasier like a Platonic distillation of its demographic, and winning another Emmy; listing sharply the other way as a gal without mercy in Mystic River, without much time to pull that off; sweet and sad in Love, Actually; well cast but along for a very bumpy second-feature ride in P.S.; having hit a stride where she's interesting even in under-written roles, like the wife in Kinsey; better than that, even, in The Squid and the Whale, though perhaps assigned too many of these recovery missions; taking the check but not without showing us a character in The Exorcism of Emily Rose (my review); gutsy, funny, and functional in a smallish role in Breach; gloriously disheveled, tugged between impulses toward honesty and knee-jerk prevarication, in The Savages. Nothing since, but she's mostly been doing Broadway work and cable TV.
Where To Go Next: Among the features I haven't seen, I'm most compelled by the undisguised oddity of Mark Ruffalo's debut feature Sympathy for Delicious, though before I track that down, I'll want to put in the time on Linney's Emmy-winning performance in the TV miniseries John Adams and her subsequent awards-magnet role in Showtime's The Big C.

Feb 8: Edith Evans (124; died 1976)
New Review: The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
Edith's Best Work: Her nomination for The Whisperers (performance review) is easily one of the category's high-water marks for its decade, and a haunting rendering of poverty, madness, and old-age loneliness.
I've Also Seen: Skeptical of Hepburn's resolve in The Nun's Story; fruity and rather generously nominated in Tom Jones; crusty and even more generously nominated in The Chalk Garden.
Where To Go Next: Almost certainly Look Back in Anger, which got boxed out this time by domestic you-said-you'd-wait-for-me issues that I was happy to honor. The Queen of Spades could also be a great, atmospheric divertissement, especially having just checked out Dickinson's and Walbrook's collaboration on Gaslight.

Feb 8: Lana Turner (91; died 1995)
New Review: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Lana's Best Work: The Hunter/Sirk remake of Imitation of Life makes equally good use of her gifts and her limitations as an actress. Being unforgettable can be just as rewarding as being brilliant, I should think.
I've Also Seen: Practically a distillation of whiteness as one of the three leads in Ziegfeld Girl, as a sympathetic girl who makes all the wrong choices; surprisingly appealing in the 1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with its thematically resonant switcheroo of making Turner the society lady and Ingrid Bergman the randy girl; doing her best but perhaps a bit over-awed by unworthy material and schematic revelations in Peyton Place.
Where To Go Next: Unquestionably Vincente Minnelli's Hollywood melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful. Whether Turner's good in it or not, and I hear she is, Gloria Grahame is lighting up the supporting cast, so at least one blinding-white blonde will be worth writing home about.

Feb 9: Janet Suzman (72)
New Review: ???
Janet's Best Work: She has an interesting, remote quality in Nicholas and Alexandra, but I'm not sure the performance fully pans out, mostly because the film doesn't.
I've Also Seen: Though she's been a leading figure in South African theater and an esteemed interpreter of Shakespeare for years, the only other effort I've seen is her off-camera coaxing of John Kani's moving performance as the director of Othello. Technically I saw her as Cusack's mother in Max, but few films have made less of a lasting impression on me.

Feb 10: Laura Dern (45)
New Review: ???
Laura's Best Work: As the shape-shifting imago at the wormhole center of David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE, naïve and uncertain and scared and debased
I've Also Seen: Gobbling ice cream cones in the background of the climax of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, prompting famous advice from director Martin Scorsese; as Rocky's blind and beautifully sympathetic girlfriend in Mask (Favorite Films entry); an archetype of small-town innocence, but not uncurious, in Blue Velvet; screaming "SAILOR!!!" with a notable itch in her crotch in Wild at Heart (my review); taking her memorable spin on the confused, buoyant carnality of the titular figure in Rambling Rose; mouth agape and up to her elbows in dino-shit in Jurassic Park; knocking around the background of Eastwood's A Perfect World, not at all concerned that that interesting movie isn't about her; boldly sour, comically refusing of anyone's sympathy in Citizen Ruth; inspiring the coming-out heard 'round the airport terminal, and 'round the world, on Ellen; an absolute joy as the encouraging, perpetually tipsy aunt in Dr. T & the Women (my review); whisked on as a sop to "old" times in Jurassic Park III (my review); having a lot to say about "finding your bliss" in a barely-lit sequence of Searching for Debra Winger, possibly shot on Rosanna's phone; perfectly plausible as the U.S. poet laureate with ideas of her own on one episode of The West Wing; briefly giving a bored audience something to be happy about in I Am Sam and The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio; blowing the roof off of spousal bitterness in We Don't Live Here Anymore; a compressed pleasure as half of a lesbian couple trying to have children in Don Roos' dishy Happy Endings; meeting current collaborator Mike White on his awkward directorial outing Year of the Dog; and really doing a favor to Friend Courteney Cox on the latter's short-film directorial debut, The Monday Before Thanksgiving.

Feb 11: Kim Stanley (87; died 2001)
New Review: ???
Kim's Best Work: Spindly, scary, and less overtly hysterical than I had expected in Séance on a Wet Afternoon and all the more unnerving for that, especially as the piece winds toward its discomfiting ending.
I've Also Seen: Irreducibly strange in her first film The Goddess, as though she's puzzled by the camera and it's intimidated by her; lending spare but effective voice-over to To Kill a Mockingbird; unforgettably proud of her non-conforming daughter but then instrumental in her destruction in Frances (my review); as odd and as powerful as ever with Jessica Lange (again), Tommy Lee Jones, and Rip Torn in a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that was made for Showtime, I think, but easily trumps the Taylor-Newman-Ives version, particularly in the acting department.

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Oscar

You know you want to read the conversation that goes with this picture, especially because our faces are reflecting in the table, which proves we really did conduct this exchange in the offices of MI6. It also proves I have not aged a day since turning 30.

If you're still here because you need further incentive, "Nathaniel" is Nathaniel Rogers the impresario of the most fun, most eclectic, most unabashedly personal, most list-addicted, and most graphically delicious of all the Web's many Oscar-obsessed websites. "Kurt" is Kurt Osenlund, the dapper managing editor of Slant Magazine's intimidatingly high-caliber film blog, The House Next Door. "Ali" is Ali Arikan, perhaps recently introduced to you as a "Far Flung Correspondent" for a TV show and website by some guy called Ebert, and highly regarded as a film critic in both the U.S. and Turkey. "Mark" is Mark Harris, whom you might have read in Entertainment Weekly over the years, and whose Grantland columns have constituted the most offhandedly erudite and trenchantly un-self-serious commentary that the Oscars have elicited anywhere on the Web. Mark's book Pictures at a Revolution, about the five films at the center of the 1967 Best Picture race, is the cornerstone for a course I've proposed for the 2012-13 year at Northwestern. Still time to re-start your education or transfer schools, folks!

In Episode 1 of this symposium, we decide which Best Picture nominees we would seduce or destroy at a cocktail party; craft a ditty called "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Best Original Song?" without fully harmonizing on a solution; debate which actors had to work the hardest to make their movies great, and whether that's a good or bad thing; and dispute whether certain movies have suffered more slings and arrows than is strictly fair this season, by overly-strict comparison to some of their stablemates.

In Episode 2, we break ranks about Viola Davis's classification as a lead actress; entertain some categories that multiply-nominated films weirdly couldn't get arrested in; debate on what basis you can ever judge a film's editing; discuss movies that may or may not be too in love with themselves for their own good; and debate the merits of various Screenplay nominees, especially Margin Call.

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January Birthday Girls

It's been real, ladies of January! And thanks to all the readers and commenters who turned out for these 14 reviews. If all keeps hewing to plan, we'll get another set of 14 in February, and hopefully a lot of them will be valentines.

For the record, the best of the movies I watched for this project in January was William Wellman's Heroes for Sale (1933, with Loretta Young), which would also qualify as my favorite of the reviews if I hadn't taken such saucy, thunderstruck pleasure in writing about Tim (1979, with Piper Laurie). Runners-up for the best movie were The Fountainhead (1949, with Patricia Neal), Rumble Fish (1983, with Diane Lane), and, for all my misgivings, Gaslight (1940, with Diana Wynyard). I'm proud of the pieces on The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937, with Luise Rainer) and on The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996, with Geena Davis), even if the State of the Union at the end of the latter one made me sad. Putting The Actress (1950, with Jean Simmons) to rights came easily, but thinking my way through my mixed reactions to The Little Drummer Girl (1984, with Diane Keaton), Barfly (1987, with Faye Dunaway), and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004, with Emily Watson) was gratifyingly tough. Along with Gaslight, The Glass Menagerie (1950, with Jane Wyman), Twelfth Night (1996, with Imelda Staunton), and The Sea Gull (1968, with Vanessa Redgrave) offered auspicious occasions to ponder the relations between a superlative play and a strained film.

I hope you'll all be back in February, where profile subjects will include the lovely Laura Linney, the grand dame Edith Evans, the intimidating Kim Stanley, the amazingly eclectic Laura Dern, the tough cookie Stockard Channing, the under-valued Joanne Woodward, and the most recently deceased of all the Best Actress nominees, two-time winner Elizabeth Taylor.

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