Hats in the air for Sideways grabbing two Best Picture awards, from the L.A. Film Critics and New York Online Film Critics. And cheers to Thomas Haden Church, the film’s amiable, clueless horndog, for scoring two Best Supporting Actor awards from the same groups. And a pat on the back for Sideways director Alexander Payne also being toasted by LAFCA for his work, and to Payne and Jim Taylor for winning the Best Screenplay trophy, and Liam Neeson for winning LAFCA’s Best Actor award for Kinsey, and Imelda Staunton for winning…my God, I’m boring. Virginia Madsen won LAFCA’s Best Actress award, and….I can’t do this. But it’s all great. Hooray for everyone who won.
Gold Derby.com’s Tom O’Neill has written an attack piece on the New York Film Critics Circle in the Arts and Leisure section of Sunday’s (12.12) New York Times. One of his big blasts is that the NYFCC “has fared terribly” when it comes to predicting Oscar’s Best Picture, although they agreed with the Academy last year in giving their top trophy to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The NYFCC’s last Oscar synch-up before that was giving their Best Picture award to Schindler’s List in ’93, and two years before that to The Silence of the Lambs. But hold on, Tom. Isn’t the NYFCC’s marching to a beat of different drum, all things considered, a good rather than a bad thing? Wouldn’t the NYFCC’s choices be regarded askance if they matched up too often with the Academy’s?
The scariest alien invasion movie of recent years, no question, was Shyamalan’s Signs, which was almost entirely about omens, shadows and bumps in the night. And here comes Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (Paramount/DreamWorks, 6.29.05), his third movie about aliens visiting earth, and the first thing I get from the new teaser is obviousness and deja vu. I’m speaking of those middle-American families standing in their nightgowns and bathrobes on a small-town neighborhood street at night, looking with concern at those flashing sky lights in the clouds on the far horizon. I thought right away of those flashing sky lights in the clouds above Melinda Dillon’s home in the early stages of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
And yet (this is a surprise) I’m told that the middle-American milieu stuff in the War of the Worlds teaser is essentially horseshit because they’re not in the movie and don’t really represent the film at all. As was reported in a recent New York Times story about the Worlds shoot in Bayonne, New Jersey, Spielberg has gone to great lengths to avoid suburban settings. Tom Cruise’s character is a longshoreman, the movie takes place in rusted old working-class Newark neighborhoods, and, I’m told, out in the countryside. So Worlds, it appears, couldn’t be further from Close Encounters. It’s also weird that the trailer has images of Paris and London and whatnot, since the film, I’m hearing, never strays from Cruise’s character’s limited viewpoint.
And by the way, the Worlds marketing slogan is, “They’re Already Here.” As in hidden amongst us, preparing to strike, etc. Is anyone else hearing an echo? Just as the 1953 George Pal War of the Worlds was, in the vein of The Thing and other alien invasion movies of that period, a metaphor for a feared Communist takeover, the metaphor in Spielberg’s film is…well, think about it. But it’s not what you might think. If you read H.G. Wells’ novel, which was an allegory about the demise of the British empire, it can be deduced that the Spielberg film isn’t about fear of Osama bin Laden but our waging of the Iraqi War. Remember how the aliens die in the George Pal film, from breathing our air and not being able to cope with the infections? This comes straight from Wells, who was trying to show how British colonialists could invade less technologically-advanced cultures and completely dominate them, but would eventually, over time, be driven out by indigenous factors like disease (in the case of Africa) or local insurgencies (like in India), which are impossible to stop. No occupation ever succeeds because the occupier is too far from home, spread too thin, ideologically unsound, stuck far from their sources of support in a hostile land. Sound familiar? The metaphor obviously transposes pretty well to 2004. Just as Wells made the British the invaded rather than the invaders, so as not make his point too blaringly obvious, Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp have made the U.S. the invaded instead of the invaders.
I’ve just seen for the very first time, via the new Universal Home Video DVD, Howard Hughes’ Hells Angels (1930). Despite some creaky elements here and there, it really isn’t half bad. It has half-decent dialogue, characters you can grab hold of and relate to (or at least understand where they’re coming from), a pair of aerial action sequences that kick serious ass, and a tough-hearted finale. The realism in the third-act dogfight sequence is inescapably thrilling and is obviously well-shot and well-cut, deploying a swarm of World War I biplanes. Hughes, the director and producer, took three years and spent close to $4 million bucks to make this thing, and saw three stunt pilots get killed during the dogfight shooting. And honestly? I enjoyed it more than sitting through Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, a mostly laborious biopic about Hughes that Gold Derby.com’s Tom O’Neill is predicting will be showered with Oscar glory…right! If you plan on seeing The Aviator, make sure you catch the Hells Angels DVD also. You can sense more fully who Hughes really was from this 74 year-old film (especially his love of flying and his admiration of costar Jean Harlow’s sexual charms) than you can from Scorsese’s work, I swear. And you don’t have to think about piss in milk bottles.
The first impact grenade has gone off in the vicinity of Spanglish (Columbia, 12.17), and Tea Leoni’s chalk-on-a-blackboard performance has taken the heaviest hit. “It’s difficult to engage with a picture when a major character is so out of control emotionally as to require immediate institutionalization, even if no one in — or behind — the film seems to notice,” declares Variety critic Todd McCarthy. “So it is with Leoni’s Deborah Clasky, a Bel-Air matron whose complete self-absorption has obliterated any personality and interests she once might have had. A clenched fist of knotted nerves tightened by constant workouts, Deborah can’t relate to anyone on a human level, only in a manner she imagines is appropriate or prescribed.”