February 26, 2012

Billy Crystal looks…uh…different…



Oscar Rant

February 26, 2012

I’m watching the Oscars for now, but I’m just not that invested.

When it was announced several years ago that the Best Picture category would be expanded, I was cautiously optimistic that this would provide an opportunity for smaller, more original pictures to earn a nomination and have a chance at a bigger audience.

And, it sort of worked.  Two years ago I was thrilled that The Hurt Locker topped Avatar.  Last year, I was pulling for Winter’s Bone.  Earning the nomination was a prize in and of itself.

This year, I don’t care much which picture wins.

Okay, maybe I should pull for Hugo because of the movie connections and the craftsmanship of the film.

But, what about the others?  Here’s an alphabetical rundown:

The Artist – cute but overhyped and over-rated.

The Descendants:  Not Alexander Payne’s best work.  Polished but pretty forgettable.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close:  This is better than most of the other nominees and has some original elements.

The Help:  Despite the controversy, this is a classically well-made Hollywood film that delivers some emotionally powerful moments.

I’ve already conceded that Hugo belongs on the list.

Midnight in Paris:  Sure, it’s the best film Woody Allen has made in years, but it’s really a bit modest at its core.  Besides, I’ve never cared that much for Allen’s forays into the metaphysical.

Moneyball:  Another somewhat forgettable film.  Margin Call is infinitely more complex and formally accomplished and should have been on the list instead.

The Tree of Life:  This film contains some of the most beautiful and perfect moments I’ve ever seen in a film, but it doesn’t hold up for me as a complete work.

And, finally, War Horse:  It’s terrible.  I resent the space that War Horse is taking up among the nominees.

Overall, The Best Picture category makes me want to yawn.   Most of the categories have a similar effect on me this year, though a few are better than others.

Take Actress in a Leading Role, for example, which seems the strongest overall category this year.

All of the nominees are terrific, but one of them knocked out Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin.  She is remarkable.  I’m not sure which of the other nominees I would ditch to make a place for her because they’re all strong.  I don’t have a firm favorite…I just like to gripe that Tilda Swinton doesn’t have a nomination.

Despite the ennui I feel about the Oscars, I don’t think this was a particularly blah year at the movies.  2011 was at least average.  I saw a lot of films and enjoyed many of them, but for some reason it does seem to be a particularly blah year for Oscar nominations.

Maybe voting members were playing it safe.  Of course, when your industry is losing money from the previous year, I think the last thing you should do is play it safe.

There has always been a terrific tension in the American film industry between art and commerce.  Maybe I need to remind myself that the Oscars have always been an evening to dress up and celebrate commerce under the guise of art and social conscience.

The evening is, as it always has been, a bit of a masquerade.



February 19, 2012

On February 14, HBO premiered The Loving Story.  Compelling film — amazing archival photos and footage.  It always helps (as in Being Elmo) when someone makes a documentary or news feature at the time of an event or period in a character’s life you want to explore later and there is access to the earlier footage.

In fact, most of The Loving Story, especially the first half, is constructed from archival elements.  There are a very few interviews (mainly the two attorneys who argued the case, one daughter, and one cousin who is now an academic) woven into the film.

The film documents the interracial marriage of Mildred and Richard Loving in the 1950s when it was illegal to do so in their state of Virginia.  After their arrest, the Lovings were told they had to leave Virginia, and their fight to return to their state legally made history when the Supreme Court ruled that miscegenation laws were unconstitutional in the late 60s.  At that time, 16 states still had laws forbidding interracial marriage on the books.

The film is available on HBO, but this upcoming screening and symposium in the Triangle may also be of interest:


The line-up of speakers is quite interesting, and the film is inspiring and – some will say – still topical.


February 14, 2012

I used to turn on MSNBC to catch a little Morning Joe in the mornings.  What great guests and interesting talk about substantive matters.  Besides, I’m a news and politics junkie (I DVR Hardball With Chris Matthews every day and a select group of the Sunday shows each week).

But, I can’t join Morning Joe right now.

Joe Scarborough has always had a tendency to bloviate, but that seems to be growing at the same time he’s becoming more of a bully on the air.  To top that off, his analysis is repetitive and seems about an inch deep.

Before I sort of overlooked him in favor of the line-up of other regulars and guests.  Recently, he’s crossed some invisible threshold that makes him too irritating to watch.  What a shame.

This is not all bad, though.  Today I’m back to turning on the radio in the mornings.  Ah – Morning Edition to the rescue!


February 12, 2012

I’m not much for award shows (we’ll talk about why I feel like boycotting the Oscars this year later!), but I couldn’t resist tuning into the 2012 Grammys to see how the show would offer a tribute to Whitney Houston.

In a word, it was fitting.

Quick, heartfelt, and accompanied by both prayer and a clip of one of Houston’s previous appearances on the award show, the opening tribute set just the right tone.

There have been other references and remembrances of Houston threaded through the presentations and performances, and I’m sure more will follow, but the show has not been thrown off-kilter by the superstar’s untimely death and there have not been any missteps (as there could have been) by trying to capitalize on headlines past and present.

And, after all, the show must go on…


February 7, 2012

Producer George Lucas entrusted the film to writer John Ridley and director Anthony Hemingway, both of whom have worked primarily in television.  The film is structured very much like movies of the World War II era, of which there were many, so there are times when it feels a bit clichéd.  I understand that this choice may have been to fill in a bit of history.  During the 40s, there weren’t war films featuring an African American cast, so this fills a gap, but the style also makes the film feel a bit dated.

This was also a problem I had with Saving Private Ryan after the opening sequence.  You have a collection of stock characters – in this case the religious soldier, the tortured soldier with a drinking program, the risk-taking womanizer, the solder from a particular geographic region, and so on.  Over time, they form common bonds to unite on a particular mission.

I loved seeing actors I recognized from great TV shows like The Wire and Friday Night Lights up on the big screen along with Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrence Howard, but I wish they had been given better dialogue, less clichéd characters, and a story with better pacing and visual effects.  It’s an important story and an inspiring story, but this approach is likely to appeal more to people who already know about it and remember World War II than to engage a new audience that needs to hear about these courageous, extremely skilled men who broke through color barriers.