With the at-long-last screenings this week of James L. Brooks’ Spanglish, all the presumed Oscar-level stuff has now been seen and everyone is starting to shift into kick-back mode with the remaining December releases, two of which — Uni’s Meet the Fockers and Fox’s Flight of the Phoenix — don’t seem to be the sort of thing that will weigh heavily upon anyone’s soul. No offense to the intrepid Scott Rudin, but I’d prefer to overlook Par’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events for the time being. I have a certain aversion to Jim-Carrey-in-elaborate-makeup films. Actually, I have a slight aversion to Jim Carrey. Whoa…where did that come from?
How can one not be moved by the intimations of loyalty and compassion being shown on behalf of Martin Scorsese and his latest film, The Aviator, by admiring smart- guy critics like Emanuel Levy and Variety‘s Todd McCarthy, among others? But even in the expressions of respect and enthusiasm for a great director, limits should be observed. Levy cannot proclaim on the front page of Movie City News that this biopic about the young to middle-aged Howard Hughes is “extremely entertaining” and not expect others (me, for instance) to slap their heads in disbelief. Offer, if you must, the flimsy argument that The Aviator is some kind of Oscar-worthy Scorsese package (it isn’t, trust me, unless people get it in their heads to nominate it as an acknowledgement of Scorsese’s career, and the fact that the Academy has never given him the prize), but Levy declaring it’s a sure thing that Scorsese will be handed his fifth Best Director nomination for The Aviator seems delusional to me. Likewise, his asking “how high will The Aviator fly with the Academy voters” is nutso. Trust me — this very long-running film is, quite often, a form of psychological torture.
Newsweek critic David Ansen says there’s “fun to be had” in Ocean’s Twelve (Warner Bros., 12.10), but otherwise….aah, why paraphrase? “There’s so much going on in Steven Soderbergh’s sequel — George Nolfi’s screenplay seems like three slightly different movies competing for dominance — that everyone gets short shrift,” Ansen writes. “Ocean’s Twelve is busier, messier and thinner than its predecessor, and while it looks like the cast is having a blast and a half, the studied hipness can get so pleased with itself it borders on the smug.” Borders?
I said two or three weeks ago that The Phantom of the Opera is not hateful and is sufficiently emotionally grandiose that it may well end up with a Best Picture nomination….who knows? Not my cup of tea but it meets a certain middle-class criteria, etc. Well, since then the Phantom haters have been gaining ground and now I’m hearing all around that it’s not good enough, it’s not Chicago, Joel Schmuacher is not Baz Luhrman, and so on. All right, maybe so. On the other side of the ledger are all those Average Joe types who’ve been delighted and turned on by it…so what do I know? All I know is that I can’t seem to put my finger on this one. It seems to be toast, but…
Remember when the prospect of a new, soon-to-open Steven Soderbergh film would bump up your pulse rate a bit?
It came out of that electric surge he had between ’98 and ’00, that dam burst of creative energy manifested in Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich and Traffic. The 38 year-old Soderbergh won a Best Director Oscar for Traffic in March ’01, and I remember watching from some crowded Oscar party and loudly whoo-whooing when this happened. Great achievement, glorious night.
It was precisely four years ago when I first saw the superb Traffic, and I remember purring in my screening room seat and giving silent thanks to God or fate or whatever for putting Steven Soderbergh films in my life.
But in the four years since the dream has turned into cottage cheese. Green cottage cheese, okay, because a lot of money has been (and will be) made, but the upshot is that nobody in my rarified circle cares very much any more. It used to be, “Wow…Soderbergh.” Now it’s like, “Okay, here he comes again…another in-and-out so-whatter.”
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I don’t know who Steven Soderbergh is anymore, but the guy who made The Limey has, by all appearances, lumbered off into a very deep bear cave and curled up for a snooze. We all need to do this at times and maybe he’s recharging, but for four years?
When I think of Soderbergh these days I think of this in-house Warner Bros. go-along guy. He’s not the GenX Mr. Cool with the horn-rim glasses any more. He’s the guy who makes big expensive fuck-all movies like the two Ocean flicks, or the pretentious guy who made Solaris, or, depending on who you talk to, the axe man who didn’t stand by or protect former pally and close colleague Ted Griffin (his Ocean’s 11 screenwriter) when push came to shove on the filming of the film now called Rumor Has It.
I’ve been thinking recently that Soderbergh may have evolved into a 21st Century version of director Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, Brubaker, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Pocket Money). Rosenberg made some decent films, so it’s not an insult to invoke this comparison. But it is disappointing that the Soderbergh of ’98 to ’00 has folded up shop.
He sure as hell isn’t carrying on the tradition of Richard Lester anymore…not with Ocean’s Bullshit 11 to his credit and the firing of Griffin on his conscience, and the visually swampy, what-the-fucky Full Frontal to answer for, on top of the crib-death failure of Solaris and now the likelihood of another big-budget jape…or is romp the more accurate term?…with Ocean’s Who-Gives-a-Crap? 12.
I don’t mean to sound like a rank sourpuss. I like japes, romps, caper movies …whatever. As long as they’re clever and winning and well-acted. Peter Yates’ The Hot Rock (’71) is a example of a great jape movie. I love it — I’ve seen it maybe eight times. If Ocean’s 12 (which I won’t see until early next week) has the same kind of vibe and agility, cool. Soderbergh will still be the Hollow Man, but at least I won’t feel burned.
I realize it may all turn around when he does his Che Guevara movie with Benicio del Toro. Maybe that will be the Big Turnaround and after it’s made Soderbergh will start admitting in interviews what a fallow period ’01 to ’04 was, etc. Let’s hope so.
Soderbergh’s malaise is clearly tracable to his production company deal with Warner Bros. Maybe he wanted to live on his partner George Clooney’s level and maybe he wanted a better class of girlfriend, so (in all likelihood) he went for the dough. Maybe there’s some kind of vague Samson-and-Delilah thing going on and Soderbergh’s wife, Jules Asner, is somehow sapping his essence or messing with the purity of his genius-geek boy-nerd sensibility.
Maybe he needs to just renounce everything and start wearing sandals and sarapes and go to Guatemela and live in a cave and find his soul again. I don’t know. Thoughts?
Feel His Pain
I’ve only read portions of David Thomson’s The Whole Equation (Knopf, now in stores), but it’s obviously another brilliant work by a man I believe to be our greatest film essayist and critic. Thomson’s books are always sublime. And like all the others, this one is written in a clean and graceful prose style that’s not too academic or snooty, and is always serving up thoughts, insights and asides of a wholly fascinating nature.
The Whole Equation is a detailed, penetrating, here-and-there history of the psychology of American filmmaking over the last 100 years.
The title comes from a line of dialogue taken from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, a novel about the Hollywood career of MGM producer Irving Thalberg. I don’t know the speaker, but a guy is saying Hollywood “can be understood, but only dimly and in flashes. Not half a dozen men have ever been able to keep the whole equation of pictures in their heads.”
Thomson is one of those guys. His book juggles and eyeballs and sorts through the whole shmear. It focuses in on the core elements, and then puts them all into a pan and turns on the heat and sprinkles on seasoning, and then lays it out on the table.
I love that it’s not written in some sequential history-book way, and it has all kinds of great anecdotal data. I love reading what stars got paid for this or that role. I wonder how Humphrey Bogart spent the $35,000 and change he made for starring in Casablanca. Marlon Brando earned $125,000 for acting in the great On the Waterfront, but $5 million for his stupid 10-minute cameo in Christopher Columbus: The Discovery . I eat this shit up.
My favorite parts are those that explain the personalities and manic compulsions of Hollywood craziest (as in crazy-beautiful) — folks like Robert Towne, Louis B. Mayer, Eric von Stroheim, Nicole Kidman, David O. Selznick, Steven Spielberg, and Joe Gillis.
Especially Joe Gillis — the famously embittered screenwriter played by William Holden in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. As this haunting 1950 classic starts up, Gillis, who’s marginally talented but probably isn’t good enough all the way around the track, is in a pickle. He’s broke, can’t get a job and is about to have his car repossessed. He winds up working for a has-been movie queen named Norma Desmond on a rewrite job, and then becomes her gigolo lover, and winds up floating in her swimming pool with two slugs in his back. Or is it three?
Equation offers a very amusing riff about what the terms of Joe’s humiliation would be today. If, that is, he had been born around the time of Sunset Boulevard‘s release. Here’s how most of it reads:
“It is 2000 or so, and Joe is a modest success in Hollywood. He has some good credits, and he gets new assignments. He is, of course, a member of the Writers Guild, and as such — so long as he keeps working — he enjoys the Guild health plan (it covers dental), the pension scheme (Joe is in his fifties), and death benefits. And because of the Guild’s steady pressure to raise the respectability of the writer, and because of Joe’s agent’s endeavors, he can get $350,000 for a script. In return, he owes the Guild $100 a year plus 1.5 percent of his gross earnings.
“Now let’s do a little gentle math on Joe. He has a house in Santa Monica, one he bought seven years ago (at the time of his second marriage). He got it for $850,000 then, and with refinancing his monthly mortgage payment is $5000 (though he now owes $970,000 on the house). Thanks to Jarvis-Gann (Proposition 13 it was called), Joe pays only about $8500 a year in property taxes. But the state has suffered in other ways because of Proposition 13: it has lost the quality public schools it once had.
“This hits Joe quite sharply. He had a first wife and a divorce, and although California is a no-fault state, the judge nailed him. He plays alimony of $5000 a month. He has a nineteen year-old at Dartmouth (that’s $40,000 a year if you count plane tickets) and a fifteen year-old in a private high school ($25,000). Then he has a six year-old boy by the second marriage ($15,000 a year at a Montessori school).
“Joe also likes to keep a small office in Venice; he works better there, and he has learned that a man deserves a private life. The office and his secretary (just three days a week) run him $25,000.
“Are you counting? The annual total so far is $313,850.
“I forgot to mention the therapy; not for Joe (he bears up), but the two older kids go once a week and that is $14,000 a year. Now his second wife is saying it’s unfair that the six-year-old doesn’t go, too.
“So far the expenses are $327,000, against income this year of $350,000. Joe is lucky. He has work and a nice house and three kids who are all sound of body if inert in the mind. He has a little left over for a vacation. But the second wife (she is a lot younger than he is) wants to open a dance studio that could be very capital-greedy in its first few years. And Joe really needs a new car. Living in Santa Monica, his drives to the studios are rough and getting rougher. His Volvo is creaking. He has his eye on something just a bit spiffier.
“Look, he’s in trouble, which is why he is considering this second job, a moonlighting polish called Bases Loaded about a girls’ softball team. It doesn’t really need writing, so much as catching the way teenagers talk in the mall. And Joe has traded on having teenagers — he talks to them incessantly; it troubles them, but he has the latest slang. It’ snto going to be anything Joe will be proud of, but he needs the second check. It’s that or some TV stuff.
“Anyone living in Hollywood will have detected an extra irony in the equation of Joe’s economy. If he does better, his fiscal parameters will expand to keep him pinched. His house, on Montana, is rather shabby. To mix usefully with the A-list people, he needs to live in Beverly Hills. That is not going to happen at under $2.5 million. In turn that would push his mortgage payments to $120,000 a year. To say nothing of staff — he’s going to need a housekeeper, a gardener, and catering services from time to time.
Thomson runs another tabulation of Joe’s income and expenses, noting that he makes about $1 million but has to spend $1 million to keep his life rolling, which, as his accountant points out, leaves the accountant unpaid.
“Joe lives in another trap. At his standard of living, he cannot yield to even his own great ideas, supposing he has them. Suppose he thinks of a lovely, simple story; the whole arc of it comes to him as he knots his tie. But it’s a small film, a little gem. How small? Well, it could happen — Joe knows a start-up company that would fund it (at a modest level). Joe could write it and direct it (the thing he’s always dreamed about), for $200,000 — two thirds of that deferred. Here it is — the apple of his eye.
“But he can’t do it. He can’t afford to step down. He needs projects of a certain size. Maybe his wife or a child (I ilke that better) taunts him: “You’re only doing it for the money, Dad!” He protests. He argues. He turns angry. He is a writer, isn’t he?
“But when he sleeps, he has a dream in which God (or is it his agent?) comes to him — they are sitting up on Mulholland, surveying the city on a warm night – and says: “Here’s the deal. You can make the film you want, the film of your best moments – for nothing. Or, we’ll never make another film you touch, but we’ll give you $2 million a year.”
“Find out the movies a man saw between the age of ten and fifteen…which ones he liked, disliked…and you would have a pretty good idea of what sort of mind and temperament he has.” — Gore Vidal, Paris Review interview, 1974, as excerpted in David Thomson’s The Whole Equation.
“I liked it, it’s well done but I wasn’t crazy about it. I didn’t believe he’d stay with that neurotic wife. I could be in the minority…I didn’t hate it… but the ending is the ending and that’s what you go out with. It’s no home run ending. There’s no reason to stay with her. She had an affair, which she admits to him. There’s a line that she had an affair, she says yes, I slept with him. I don’t get it. It doesn’t ring true for me. [The director] shot all kinds of different endings, but he just didn’t know what to do at the end, and the ending he chose is flat. And yet overall the whole picture is very well done.”
Prick Up Your Ears
Nancy Porter of Sierra Madre (east of Pasadena), California, was first to identify last Wednesday’s dialogue clips.
Clip #1 is Laurence Olivier using metaphor in an attempt to seduce his servant, played by Tony Curtis, in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus; Clip #2 is George C. Scott’s doctor in Arthur Hiller’s The Hospital, describing the emotional shambles of his life, and Clip #3 is Barnard Hughes from the same film, explaining all about “death by irony”; and Clip #4 is an Tilda Swinton and.
Today’s Clip #1 is an exploration of the implications of silence, and Clip #2 is a response to a particular conclusion about this. Clip #3 is from a conversation on a beach in Mexico; and Clip #4 is a “eureka!” scene from the annals of advertising.
I’ll post the winner on Wednesday, 12.8.
“If memory serves, you’re the writer who gave a close reading to that photo of Leslee Dart with Nicole Kidman that ran in the N.Y. Times. In any case, if you’re interested in further study of Hollywood publicist body language, check out the photo that runs with the Kingsley-Dart story in the current (12/6) New York magazine.
“In this one, Dart has her arm around Harvey Weinstein, and she’s doing the exact same thing to Harvey that Nicole did to her — she’s got her arm around him, but only her thumb is touching him. And not even that, because her thumb is only barely touching his should and is resting on its side The rest of her fingers are awkwardly poised above his shoulder, hovering in mid-air.
“Maybe these days, Harvey is even more of an untouchable than she is. Or maybe both Leslee and Nicole are covertly flashing some sort of gang sign.” — Walter van Tilburg Clark
It may be total bullshit, but if there’s any truth to the 007 franchise-destroyers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli giving serious thought to hiring Colin Salmon as the new James Bond, it would be the absolute coolest move of their mediocre lives.
Britain’s Sun newspaper is basing a speculative story that Salmon might be the guy on ]nothing but the fact that Salmon signed an autograph for a young fan by wrting, “To Sebastian, have a wonderful life!! Colin Salmon 007”, on a photograph of himself in Alien Vs Predator.
Salmon played the British intelligence officer Charles Robinson opposite Pierce Brosnan in the last three Bond flicks.
“The casting of Salmon would certainly bring a new twist to Ian Fleming’s creation — after a Scot, an Australian, an Englishman, a Welshman and an Irishman, Salmon would be the first black Bond,” the Sun story wrote.
Filming on the untitled Bond 21 is set for sometime in 2006.
“Well, Mr. Wells, you dodged a bullet. As an enlightened female whose ears start shooting steam every time some male tries to tell me how women and their domestic tyranny are the cause of all of man’s collective sufferings, I was prepared to bawl you out as soon as you started in on your `drop that bitch’ rant.
“But you surprised me (okay, I admit it, I shouldn’t have prejudged you), and by the time I realized what you were getting around to I figured that you were just stating a fact that’s true for a lot of guys (though this truth may be their own fault, and have nothing to do with their wives) and not going for the cheap misogynist insult.
“And I could go into a whole tirade about how too many men do end up leaving their wives in the lurch to pursue fantasy women in spite of the fact that said wives have botoxed and belly-crunched themselves half-to-death in the hopes of preventing exactly that occurrence, but that would be going for the cheap misandrist insult, and you don’t deserve that (at least not today.)
“Instead, I’d like to mention that it’s not only men who are leading the lives of quiet desperation that you describe. Women go to the movies for fantasy, too. When you go to a romantic comedy, plenty of the women in the audience are married, and they’ve come there to drool over Colin Firth and Hugh Grant even while trying to avoid the unpleasant mental comparison with their own balding, beer-bellied, football-watching husbands.
“And why do you think Erin Brockovich was such a big hit? The (straight) women in the audience weren’t there to stare at Julia Roberts’s breasts, but because they loved the idea of a sassy southern woman with three children sticking it to an evil utility company while hooking a sexy/dangerous biker guy to stay home with the kids so she can go out and kick corporate ass. This is the stuff female dreams are made of, and if
“Spanglish draws in a huge female audience, I can tell you it won’t be because the women in the theatre really like Tea Leoni’s self-loathing harpie (if that’s what she is), but because they’re turned on by the idea of an honest, patient husband who takes his wedding vows seriously and heroically resists the (understandable) urge to leave his wife for the sweet, young, non-English-speaking-and-therefore-emotionally-low-maintenance household help. Because that kind of guy is, in too many cases, just a fantasy.
“But here’s my last point (and the only one you’re probably even remotely interested in): Buck up! I went into As Good As It Gets with a similar attitude: why would I want to watch Jack Nicholson get paid to act like an ass for two hours? But I was won over, because the movie transcended the lame marketing slogan that read “Brace yourself for Melvin,” and became a story about people who seemed real to me and whose lives I was invested in without necessarily wanting to be best friends with any of them.
“If Brooks does what he’s capable of doing (and do we have any reason to believe he won’t?), then Spanglish will follow suit, and that gag-inducing ‘every family has a hero’ tag line will have nothing to do with the reality of the film, which won’t pander and won’t make anyone into a stock whipping-boy or harridan and won’t leave all the straight males in the audience feeling emasculated and depressed. Here’s hoping.” — Ashley Reed, Atlanta, GA.
“Regarding your item about whether or not the premise of Spanglish will appeal to most men, I have one comment. Bitter much?
“This is just speculation, of course, because I haven’t seen it either, but maybe Brooks and company aren’t concerned with bringing men another fantasy piece about how wives are evil shrews and pretty new acquaintances are hot. Maybe they’re offering women a portrait of a man who loves his children.
“Or maybe the film isn’t meant to appeal to any particular subgroup of human beings at all. Maybe they’re simply offering a quality script based on real human emotions portrayed by solid performances, a talented director, and (with any luck) Sandler’s follow-up to the potential he showed us in Punch Drunk Love.
“Again, I don’t know if any of this is right, and admittedly it could very well be overly optimistic and a bit naive. But, I haven’t seen it yet and neither have you. Just curious why you’re so quick to damn the concept before you’ve seen how it’s handled.” — Sarah Lenzini, “a non-toxic wife in training,” St. Louis, MO
Rahoi vs. Zelter
“Jon Rahoi sounded a little naive in his article when he suggested that it was just limited economic growth which kept the mainland Chinese from seeing Hollywood films.
“Let’s not forget that the source of that limited growth comes from the Chinese living under a totalitarian communist country, in which wages for actual effort are artificially deflated to subsistence levels, rather than the actual value of their contributions.
“Not to mention the authorities in question have the power to review each and every single film, and either ban them or demand they be edited to conform with their politically-correct policies. So even if the people want the real thing, they have to settle for bootlegs, because the party decides what’s appropriate for them to consume.” — Daniel Zelter
Rahoi responds: Sorry to burst your bubble, but China is Communist in name only these days. Your summary of Chinese life is in fact pure fantasy to me, cribbed from whatever textbook you used in tenth-grade Sociology.
“While the culture you described might have been the case two decades ago, China today is a much different place. The ‘totalitarian communist country’ you mentioned is, in reality, a thriving economic juggernaut, with private ownership of land and businesses. In this, the southern part, I can watch uncensored Hong Kong broadcasts as easily as state news, check U.S. websites, and write about China unchecked from my apartment.
“You’re right that the government still keeps a lid on the media, but it’s blown way out of proportion when mentioned in the states. The truth is, there just isn’t much of a film-distribution infrastructure yet, and absolutely no market for most crappy American movies. Just because Red Corner didn’t open here doesn’t mean it’s Soviet Russia — the movie just sucked.
“Your wages for actual effort are artificially deflated to subsistence levels’ statement is laughable. Wages here, while low, are determined by market forces alone. The Chinese government is far more laissez-faire than our own, and the next ten years will bear that out. Don’t come crying to me when the Chinese guy who takes your job buys your house and rents it out to you at a profit.”
“Jeff, you don’t get Neverland. I think everyone who reads your column understands that. But you spend most of your late column praising the National Board of Review’s choice of Michael Mann as director, but their choice is, of course, horribly compromised. If only they hadn’t chosen Neverland as Best Picture!
“Jeff, you just don’t get it. You don’t have the receptors, you’re too narcissistic, you’re too antsy, you’re worried about what’s young, hip, and really edgy. Okay, we get it . You don’t think Neverland is any good….for you. And if not you, then who?
“But just acknowledge that maybe there are certain cinematic mysteries that are beyond your grasp and let it go. And quit calling older people blue hairs, you fucker. Perhaps if you quit yammering so damn much, and paid a little bit of attention to what other loved and why, you could learn something new. Or not.” — Kathleen Denning .
Universal Home Video isn’t making a huge effort to inform you about this…they care but not all that deeply, I mean…but there’s a very decent-looking looking DVD of Howard Hughes’ Hells Angels (or so I’m told) hitting video stores on 12.7.
I would have gotten into it a bit more, but the publicists at UHV don’t consider me a prime word-spreader about DVD’s, and I was frankly too crazed to get around to asking them for a copy, which is always an effort.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is having a screening of Hells Angels on Friday, 12.10, at 7:30. This, one could argue, would be the preferable way to see a classic film — biggish screen, appreciative crowd, etc. I just hope the sound is loud enough.
Brad Pitt talking about Ocean’s 12 costar Catherine Zeta Jones: “I think the biggest joke was on Catherine because she actually thought we were making a movie. Being the new kid, nobody told her because she was up running lines and breaking down her character.” As always, it’s the the words in passing — the Latin term is obiter dicta — that give the game away. Pitt’s remark seems to confirm what I’ve been hearing, which is that Ocean’s 12 is a jokey romp piece and will probably prove to be something of a fast burn, playdate-wise.
“Fascinating, full-throttle DiCaprio performance, although he really isn’t right for the role…not really. Otherwise, it’s an OCD fest that drags in the middle, is way too long, feels curiously over-cut and over-accelerated in the beginning, and, some brilliant sequences aside (like the plane crash in Beverly Hills), is, for me, a major wipe-out. A good half of it is schizy wackjob OCD stuff…OCD, OCD, itching, twitching…twelve peas on the plate, bloodshot eyes, compulsive hand-washing, the horrors of dirt and lint, urine-filled milk bottles. Howard Hughes had to be a more intriguing guy than this. Cate Blanchett is a lot of fun as Kate Hepburn, but Gwen Stefani’s hard Italian features are totally wrong for a cameo walk-on as Jean Harlow, a milk-fed Missouri girl. I saw it with a middle-aged Academy crowd, and when it was over it was like walking out of a funeral home… nobody saying anything or making eye contact, shuffling off to the garage.”
It’s time once again to respond to the salutations of those New York secular know-nothings, the National Board of Review…even though they make calls every so often that I agree with. Like this morning’s decision to give their Best Director award to Collateral‘s Michael Mann…yes!
The NBR announced their 2004 movie awards around 11 am this morning (12.1), and will hand them out at their usual Tavern on the Green ceremony on 1.11.05.
I think giving the Best Picture prize to Finding Neverland is from the Planet Neptune. Marc Forster’s moderately-appealing period drama has a sweetly touching finale in which a dying Kate Winslet delights to a private living-room performance of James Barrie’s Peter Pan…fine. But celebrating a piece of chaste Victorian period whimsy over Sideways, Million Dollar Baby, Collateral, Kinsey, et. al.??
I’m not saying the NBR membership should consider medication, but it strikes me as a queer call.
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The NBR Awards are first out of the gate…that’s all they are. People talk about them for a day or so and then they’re forgotten until the following year. Still, that said, they can sometimes portend what other award-givers might be kicking around in the heads.
Does it mean anything that this group of middle-aged Manhattan oddballs completely ignored The Phantom of the Opera? It’s supposed to be an Oscar favorite, and it didn’t make their Top Ten list. I’ve been saying that Phantom should play well with the Academy squares and blue-hairs (I know it’s playing fairly decently with this crowd, having talked to a few of them), and probably end up with a Best Picture nomination. It could still happen, I suppose.
Jamie Foxx (who was at Tuesday night’s Michael Mann party at North with his head pretty much shaved for his role in Sam Mendes’ Jarhead) won Best Actor for Ray — deserved and no surprise. Annette Bening won Best Actress for Being Julia…the fact that the film isn’t grade-A obviously isn’t bothering the NPR any more than it’s bothering people out here.
It may not mean much in the greater scheme, but I’m still delighted that Sideways ‘ Thomas Hayden Church won for Best Supporting Actor and Kinsey ‘s Laura Linney won for Best Supporting Actress.
Alejandro Amenabar’s The Sea Inside was given their Best Foreign Film award…good call. Xan Cassevetes’ Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession should have won their Best Documentary Award, but it came in second to Born Into Brothels.
The NBR’s Breakthrough Performance Actor trophy went to Topher Grace for his work in P.S. and In Good Company…fine. The Breakthrough Performance Actress award went to Phantom‘s Emmy Rossum.
Michael Mann winning their Best Director may conceivably tip things a bit in his favor as far as being named a Best Director nominee by the Directors Guild. If this happens, his Oscar chances will significantly increase.
Congrats to Sideways‘Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for winning the best Adapated Screenplay award, and to Charlie Kaufman for taking the Best Original Screenplay award for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Mann of Honor
I’ve been writing about Michael Mann’s films and having the occasional random chat with the guy since the mid `90s Heat days, but I’ve never sat down with him and gotten into this or that topic to any degree, much less listened or considered his brain transmissions firsthand.
Well, I’ve now done this in a manner of speaking, having listened to Mann converse with 21 Grams director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu in front of an audience at the Writers Guild theatre late last night (11 pm to midnight), and then take questions from the audience.
And I came away with an impression that’s never quite penetrated over the last eight or nine years: The guy is a friggin’ celestial physicist. He’s Albert Einstein, and all this time I had him pegged as Robert Oppenheimer or maybe Werner von Braun.
Collateral star Jamie Foxx, director Michael Mann at Tuesday night’s party at North (photo: John Kopaloff)
The stuff that Mann said last night to Innaritu and various audience members showed he’s got a massive and beautifully ordered data base in his head that can address and finesse every emotional and technical aspect of filmmaking under the sun or moon. It was also clear that he expresses himself in a laid-back, confident, needle-precise fashion that draws on what sounded to me like a Rennaissance Man rich-guy beatnik sensibility.
I was going to quote all the stuff he said last night, but I’d rather just report that Mann used the word “logarithms” twice.
The case that he’s a superb filmmaker has, of course, been made several times over. Since Mann’s latest film, Collateral opened last August, I’ve been making the case that it’s easily one of the best films of the year, and that Mann deserves a Best Director nomination for it. He really, really does, and not just because it’s so precisely and immaculately composed, but it tells a great story, and because a profound emotional chord is struck between the two main characters, hit-man Vincent (Tom Cruise) and cab-driver Max (Jamie Foxx).
In describing Stuart Beatty’s “beautifully harmonic” screenplay last night, Mann said that “everything these two characters have been all their lives is collapsed into one night, and this one night is a crucible.”
I’ve always seen Collateral as a movie about redemption — about waking up and being saved.
I recognize that a lot of people aren’t on the same page. They see it as a quality genre piece…but they’ve put it into a box with a label that says, “Good but no Oscar cigar because it’s a wham-bam urban thriller.”
And it may be Mann’s fate that he’ll be more richly appreciated in 20 or 30 years time, and that in his lifetime Oscar glory will be out of reach, partly because his movies don’t make staggering amounts of money (although they usually do pretty well) and partly because his films are laws unto themselves in certain ways, and because they don’t traffic in brand-name emotion.
But they do make you feel things. Profoundly. They always have. Is anyone going to try and tell me that the trials that Al Pacino’s Lowell Bergman and Russell Crowe’s Jeffrey Wigand go through in The Insider don’t generate serious emotion? Or that Detective Vincent Hanna (Pacino again) holding the hand of the dying Neil Macauley (Robert De Niro) on the LAX airstrip at the conclusion of Heat wasn’t a deeply touching thing?
I’m more moved when emotion leaks out of some hard-guy type, almost of its own will, rather than emotion gushing out of some teary-faced girl in her 20s who’s in touch with her feelings. And I’m definitely more affected when the seeds of the hard-guy emotion are planted early and carefully nourished, and brought out by excellent acting, which is always the case in any Michael Mann film.
David Denby recognized this in his 8.9.05 New Yorker review: “The plot of Collateral is just a movieish contrivance, and the violence no more than thuggishly casual and chic — that is, very enjoyable. But Collateral picks up some genuine weight as this odd couple carry on their weird, terse dialogue. After a while, Vincent takes on a small measure of Max’s gentleness, and Max, passive and dreamy by nature, learns to seize the moment.”
Denby said in the same piece that “shot by shot, scene by scene, Michael Mann may be the best director in Hollywood.
“Methodical and precise, he’s become a master builder of sequences, the opposite of the contemporary action directors who produce a brutally meaningless whirl of movement,” Denby continued. “He analyzes a scene into minute components — a door closing, an arm thrust out — and gathers the fragments into seamless units; he wants you to live inside the physical event, not just experience the sensation of it.”
There are those, of course, who will never get this, and can only see things in terms of practical industry politics.
I was speaking to a veteran Academy member about Mann’s being in the running for a Best Director nomination, and he said, “People respect him and admire him, but I don’t think it’s going to sell.”
Mann, Foxx, Collateral screenwriter Stuart Beattie at North (photo: John Kopaloff)
I’ve always thought that opinions about a person’s personality or the way they handle the day-to-day has no place in a process that’s supposed to be about applauding artistry, but people always bring it up regardless. And so my friend carped that Mann “doesn’t know from financial restraint, he never has…and he’s got an ego bigger than the Empire State…and the only one who made any money on this film is Tom Cruise. His check is bigger than the money DreamWorks will make off the whole thing.”
I guess he means that other world-class artists are known for being conservative when it comes to spending what it takes to make their creations as good as they can be, and are also known for adopting shoulder-shrugging, comme ci comme ca `tudes when it comes to making creative choices.
If Mann’s Best Director nomination happens, it’ll happen as a bounce-off if and when he gets nominated by the Directors Guild for their own awards presentation. No DGA nom, no Oscar nom — it’s that simple.
I’d like to say that his being named Best Director by the National Board of Review means something, but I don’t think really think so. Those people are just too weird.
Much obliged to L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein for plugging me (but not, for some reason, the column by name) in Tuesday’s “Calendar” piece about how Hollywood industry bloggers are influencing the buzz about Oscar nominations.
I hate being thought of as a blogger — I’m a journo with print credits stretching back a ways, and Hollywood Elsewhere is, like, a website. All right, WIRED is a bloggy-type thing but it’s only one of many components.
Goldstein’s motive in writing the piece seems to be…well, it might be a feeling of pique about Hollywood Elsewhere, David Poland’s Movie City News, Roger Freidman’s Fox 411 and Tom O’Neill’s Oscar Derby.com getting into screenings early here and there and, now and then, expressing views about the Oscar worthiness of this or that new film.
Whatever the value of this game, it’s one that a plugged-in print journalist laboring under the mandate of having to write weekly issue- and reporting-driven columns can’t play, although Goldstein did play it when he mentioned in Tuesday’s column that he’d seen James L. Brooks’ Spanglish and that he thinks it’s an Oscar contender.
Of course, Goldstein gets into many more early-bird screenings than I do. He’s always among the first to see anything.
Bottom line: web revenues are climbing, the internet economy is bouncing back, the internet is obviously faster than print (unless you’re unable to write as quickly as you ought to and sometimes have difficulty making your deadlines, like me), and this whole Hollywood blogger stand-out thing makes the Times seem a step or two behind. You know….slower.
Prick Up Your Ears
After Wednesday’s column wrapped 8 or 9 hours later than it was supposed to, I did some cleaning, watched some TV, stumbled over to a pizza parlor and forgot to do the sound clips. Why put up new ones now if they’re only going to be up until tomorrow morning, when the next column appears? I know this makes me sound like a slacker, but I think I’ll just wait and post fresh clips tomorrow.
What Men Want
Radio shock-jock Tom Leykis doesn’t intend irony when he implores his male listeners to “drop that bitch.” He means it, although the thing he’s most sincere about is wanting to expand his audience and rake in as much money as possible. As he has said many times, Likus is definitely in it for the scratch.
It follows that Likus wouldn’t have ever chanted “drop that bitch” on his show if he didn’t think it would help accomplish his goals. He’s got all kinds of market researchers telling him if this or that line is playing or not. He’s not guessing.
The obvious reason Likus has voiced this charming slogan is because there are hundreds of thousands of unhappy, spiritually moribund husbands and boyfriends out there (many of whom, no argument, may be absolute assholes) who’d like nothing more than to tell their significant others where to go and fly the coop and find some hot new fantasy girlfriend…but they don’t because they’re wimps, or because they’re trying to feel hopeful about things and don’t want to give up. Or because they’ve got kids and mortgages and can’t see a way out.
Or, like too many of us, they’re simply terrified of giving up the routine, and so they do their best and haul themselves down to the offices of marriage counselors in the evenings and maybe have tacky little affairs on the side and hold tight to the status quo.
I’m saying this because I strongly suspect that the nation of guys nursing the occasional fantasy of telling their wives to shove it…and let me first say I think this amounts to a majority, because all guys are at least somewhat frustrated in their live-in relationships (what woman isn’t?) and at least think about tomcatting around because they’re basically dogs…yeah, I just straddled species, and this isn’t even a sentence.
These guys do not go to the movies to see the dull horror of their domestic lives replayed on the big screen. They want movies to tell stories that dream about something other than the whisker shavings in their bathroom sink. A movie that thinks about getting out in some way, or at least tries to instruct in ways they might lead these guys to feel things more positively or more deeply, and perhaps as a result feel better about themselves.
I`m saying, finally, that it’s hard to imagine a vaguely unhappy male taking pleasure from a movie about a nice-guy husband with a good job whose domestic life is clouded by his neurotic bitch of a wife…a woman who is seemingly doing damage to her children on some level…a woman who’s admitted to having an extramarital affair…a woman who has her good points and saving graces, but is mainly a guarantee of domestic hell and…jeez, another run-on sentence.
Let’s start again: I can’t see vaguely unhappy guys going nuts over a movie about a nice-guy husband starting to fall for someone else, and that woman being sexy and vulnerable and sincere of heart, and the nice-guy husband thinking about going off with this new girl, but finally abandoning her and turning around and returning to the self-loathing bitch because he can’t bring himself to leave the fort, and then terror-wife saying at the finish, “I’m glad you’re back.”
If a woman is for the most part a negative-minded harridan with low self-esteem issues and given to seeing life as a series of anxious, teeth-gritting rituals, she’s not going to wake up one morning like Ebenezer Scrooge and become someone else. So if you go back to her, you’re saying to yourself, “I need more hell. I’m not unhappy enough.”
I could possibly see going for a story like this if the terror-wife had an alcohol problem, let’s say, and the nice-guy husband feels he has to go back because she’s said she realizes she has to go into the program and he wants to help her succeed. That’s a decent, noble thing to do. But to blow off a seemingly wonderful new rrelationship with a seemingly balanced and wholesome woman to return to a neurotic hell-pig who will give you a shock of gray hair and re-order your life according to Edgar Allan Poe and drive you into the pit?
This sounds about as emotionally appealing as the final 15 minutes of Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood. A better analogy, come to think, is that last bit in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious when those Nazi conspirators call out to Claude Rains, who’s just outside the front door of a large mansion, and say, “Alex…will you come in, please? We’d like to talk to you.”
This ramble has a point, but because I haven’t seen the movie that inspired it (although some have) I’m just going to let it go and wait for a screening and hope for the best. I’m just saying life is short and housemates with toxic personalities are worth their weight in strychnine and who needs it?
“I just got an e-mail from the publicist promoting The Aviator, which screens in nearby St. Louis tomorrow, saying it’s now moved to Christmas Day. Did you hear anything of this? Doesn’t that seem unwise?
Instead of having only one older moviegoers’ draw to compete with on Dec. 17 (i.e., Spanglish), now The Aviator will have Meet the Fockers (more or less, having opened only three days before), The Life Aquatic, Phantom of the Opera and, I would argue, Flight of the Phoenix — a movie about plane-flying characters that looks more adrenalized. Christmas Day is going to be crazy now.” —
Nick Rogers, A&E Editor, The State-Journal Register.
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