The map on the Yahoo Political Dashboard has the most accessible state-by-state poll numbers, and I’m pleased, naturally, with the electoral vote projections favoring Obama over McCain, 278 to 227. But I’ve come to expect greater comfort and assurance from the guys at fivethirtyeight.com. They have Ohio and Virginia as lean Obama states, and an electoral vote projection of 329 to 208. Why the discrepancy? Split the two and Obama is projected to win just over 300 to McCain’s 217.
Another Jamie Stuart short about the New York Film Festival has been posted on the Filmmaker website. Per custom it hasn’t much to do with the Lincoln Center happenings. It’s another dry surreal thing. The term that comes to mind is “Bunuelian wackjob.” It contains a clip of Che director Steven Soderbergh defining what a political film is, but is mostly about strange noirish dreams in Stuart’s head. I watched it the first time with my amplified speaker system attached, and couldn’t hear most of the dialogue because of a bass guitar going “thwong, thwong, thwong, thwong.” And what does “this one’s for Matilda” mean?
“After I spent 2 1/2 hours laying on a stretcher, not being able to breathe, I thought to myself — what a waste. I’ve got a ton of money in the bank, I’ve got this hotshot job at DreamWorks and it’s all meaningless. I’ve just been living through my ego. From that minute, I promised myself that if I managed to survive, I’d live the life I wanted to live, not the way I thought other people wanted me to live.
“And however well I end up doing as a writer, whether I just eke out a living or win a bunch of awards someday, I’ll be happy because, to use the sports analogy, I’d feel like I left it on the field.” — Eagle Eye screenwriter Dan McDermott relating thoughts after almost dying from heart failure (caused by nitrogen poisoning from a scuba diving excursion), posted four days ago in Patrick Goldstein‘s “The Big Picture” bloggy-blog.
What can you say about a tough-minded, hard-nosed political drama that tells the truth, doesn’t mince words or pull punches, rekindles the viral excitement of a bygone era, offers several gripping performances and leaves you with a taste of ashes in your soul?
Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek
This is the reality of The Baader Meinhof Complex — Uli Edel‘s 149-minute drama about the famed German radical leftist group. I caught it last Friday night at the Aero along with L.A. Times guy Mark Olsen, The Envelope‘s Pete Hammond and two or three publicist pals who may be working on the film’s Academy campaign for Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar, as it was recently named as Germany’s official entry.
It’s a strong but bleak account of the impassioned but self-destructive insanity that took hold among radical lefties in the late ’60s and ’70s, and which manifested with a particular ferocity and flamboyance among the Baader-Meinhoffers. Edel’s chops are fine, the story is the story, what happened is what happened, but my God…what do you do with a history of this sort? And where in this saga is a semblance of a common cultural current? It’s not as if a willingness to kill or be killed for one’s political beliefs is something that comes up these days on Sunday mornings at Starbucks after you’ve had your morning run.
Maybe more of us should think and act in terms of life-or-death commitments. Maybe we’d be better off if more of us had the cojones to stand up and fight evil in a way that gives no quarter. But the film mainly sinks in as a revisiting of a time in which a small but dead-serious sector of the left-liberal community temporarily lost its bearings and in some cases jumped off a cliff in order to stop what they saw as a form of absolute establishment evil.
The Baader -Meinhof gang may have have had their hearts (if not their heads) in the “right” place, but what are you supposed to do with their example in the age of Barack Obama, financial meltdown, global warming, the SUV pestilence, middle-class obesity, the cultural tumor that is Beverly Hills Chihuahua and rampant plasticity and vapidity in almost every corner of the globe (especially among younger women who sit in groups of four or five in bars and cafes and laugh loudly, squealing like little piglets)?
I’m glad I saw it, I’m glad it was made, I respect and admire the contributions of everyone on the team (Edel, producer-co-writer Bernd Eichinger, exec producer Martin Moszkovicz and cast members Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, Bruno Ganz, Nadja Uhl, Jan Josef Liefers, Stipe Erceg, Niels Bruno Schmidt, Vinzenz Kiefer, Alexandra Maria Lara), and I’m glad it’s doing well commercially in Germany and elsewhere.
But I don’t think it has a prayer in hell of being nominated for Best Foreign-Language Feature. Not because it’s a bad film but because it leaves you shell-shocked and saying “what the fuck?” And because of that feeling of ashes. And because the blue-hairs are going to come out of screenings of this thing going “good Lord!”
I’m sorry to say this, but The Baader Meinhof Complex is a gripping but awfully strange and even weird story about some very extreme, go-for-broke people who didn’t know when (or how) to chill out and seemed, in the final analysis, to be more than a little in love with death. Call me a political dilletante, but as much as I admire the nerve of people willing to risk death for their political beliefs I want to live and share love and spread the word about good movies and play with my cats until I’m 97 years old.
Here‘s Mark Olsen’s reaction, which appeared yesterday in Patrick Goldstein‘s bloggy-blog “Big Picture” column (as opposed to the online remnant of the weekly print column). And here’s Boyd Van Hoeij‘s Variety review, posted on 9.25.
When and if this worthy film obtains U.S. distribution, it should be called The Baader Meinhof Gang and let it go at that. You have to think in popcorn terms when you’re thinking up a title, and popcorn munchers don’t know from complexes. This is basically a high-voltage shoot ’em up about a political-minded Barrow gang that ends in jail and suicide.
In the remarkable, deeply penetrating I’ve Loved You So Long (Sony Classics, 10.24) , Kristin Scott Thomas gives an immensely sad but highly sensitive and attuned performance that you just know, minutes into it, will be with you the rest of your life. She draws you in like some sad-eyed lady of the lowlands, but she never sells anything. Start to finish, she dwells in this fascinating zen-grief space that just “is.” She owns it…and from the moment the film begins, owns you.
Warning to first-time viewers: Watch this YouTube trailer, obviously, but don’t go to the Apple page which (a) offers it in various sizes and formats but (b) offers an absurdly over-explicit spoiler synopsis that can only serve to diminish intrigue and/or interest.
I was just depositing some cash into a Washington Mutual account an hour ago, and the atmosphere was unmistakably edgy. A long line of people, anxious looks on some of the faces, a vaguely nervous undercurrent of one form or another. Washington Mutual went under a few days ago and was bought up by JP Morgan Chase on 9.26. There was a fat guy jabbering excitedly to a friend and making no attempt to hide his anger at bank employees behind the glass who were sitting at desks and not at teller windows. The vibe was on the sullen side. No jokes, no smiles, no chit-chat.
The Envelope’s Buzzmeter software is currently being overhauled and redesigned, so in the meantime The Envelope‘s Tom O’Neil has tallied some 2008 Oscar predictions. Nobody agrees on anything…too early for that. The contributors are O’Neil, Anthony Breznican (USA Today), Edward Douglas (Comingsoon.net), Scott Feinberg (AndTheWinnerIs, The Feinberg Files at The Envelope), Pete Hammond (The Envelope), Dave Karger (Entertainment Weekly) and myself.
“The biggest robbery in the history of this country is taking place as you read this,” Michael Moore wrote today. “Though no guns are being used, 300 million hostages are being taken. Make no mistake about it: After stealing a half trillion dollars to line the pockets of their war-profiteering backers for the past five years, after lining the pockets of their fellow oilmen to the tune of over a hundred billion dollars in just the last two years, Bush and his cronies — who must soon vacate the White House — are looting the U.S. Treasury of every dollar they can grab. They are swiping as much of the silverware as they can on their way out the door.
“This so-called ‘collapse’ was triggered by the massive defaulting and foreclosures going on with people’s home mortgages. Do you know why so many Americans are losing their homes? To hear the Republicans describe it, it’s because too many working class idiots were given mortgages that they really couldn’t afford. Here’s the truth: The #1 cause of people declaring bankruptcy is because of medical bills. Let me state this simply: If we had had universal health coverage, this mortgage ‘crisis’ may never have happened.”
“To a certain extent, I think John gets hurt by this,” said CNN contributor Ed Rollins about the failure of the bailout bill to pass the House earlier today. “He obviously, at the end of the day, said he was for it. But more important than that, he said he was the one who would bring them to the table and to a certain extent he will be viewed now as not being able to do that.
“McCain is our nominee and [congressional Republicans] will do everything they can to help him, but they are not going to go over the cliff for him. I think the reality is, he made a big show coming in and at the end of the day it really wasn’t realistic for him.”
One frequent reason why high-quality films are chosen as Best Picture finalists is because of the resonance and universality of their themes. And the themes that always seem to register more than others are contained in personal journey movies about growth, redemption and transformation. They say something with a measure of eloquence that people recognize as fundamentally true based on their own life experience, and if they don’t jerk the audience around with too much shallow diversion or emotional manipulation, they tend to shine through — even if they end sadly or tragically.
You will see change/grow/transform themes lurking within most Best Picture winners or nominees going back to the ’50s, at least. Not with every last contender, of course, but they turn up a lot.
Based on this criteria, four of the 2008 Best Picture finalists — the ones with the strongest personal-journey elements involving redemption, truth-seeking, transformation — are going to be Milk, Gran Torino, The Wrestler and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. And there’s an even-handed chance that another redemption movie, Joe Wright‘s The Soloist, may become the fifth.
Clint Eastwood‘s Gran Torino (Warner Bros., 12.25) may be one his lesser efforts — who knows? — but it he’s got game the theme of a snarly blue-collar racist, a Korean War bet named Kowalski (Eastwood), trying to “reform” his neighbor, a Hmong teenager who tried to steal Kowalski’s ’72 Gran Torino — is right out of the change-redemption playbook. Add to this my suspicion that Kowalski will need as much (if not more) reforming as the kid does, and you’ve really got the elements in play. Especially if the film is rendered in Eastwood’s usual no-frills style and if Nick Schenk‘s screenplay works on its own terms. Added element: this will probably be Eastwood’s last performance, at least in one of his own films.
Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight, 12.19) is about a downscale guy who’s screwed his life up so badly that he only has one way to go, and that’s toward facing himself and his mistakes and somehow fighting and climbing and building his way out of that. Fits the journey-of-redemption model to a T. Not to mention the real-life resonance of Mickey Rourke‘s life mirroring that of the wrestler character he plays.
David Fincher‘s Button (Paramount, 12.25), of course, is all about the journey, of course, only backwards. It really can’t miss unless people decide that Brad Pitt‘s journey isn’t sufficiently transformational or redemptive.
Gus Van Sant‘s fact-based Milk (Focus Features, 12.5) is about a geeky gay guy from Long Island who found his spirit and his mission when he moved to San Francisco and began running for local office. He was an unlikely politician, to say the least, but he kept on running for San Francisco Supervisor and was finally elected, and then fought against the Briggs Amendment and inspired others gays to hold their head high, and then was shot by a fellow San Francisco supervisor who was basically a conflicted homophobe. If it turns out to be as good as I’ve heard, Milk meets the thematic criteria so completely that it’s a near-lock for a Best Picture nomination.
And Joe Wright‘s The Soloist (DeamWorks, 11.21) is about a homeless schizophrenic musician (Jamie Foxx) and an L.A. Times jourmalist (Robert Downey, Jr.) who tries to help him realize his dream of performing at Walt Disney Hall. Could be icky, but it sounds half-right on paper, and Wright has shown he’s an emotional director with good chops.
One might assume/presume that Gabrielle Muccino and Will Smith‘s Seven Pounds would qualify in this respect, but for reasons I’d rather not say at this time I temporarily have doubts.
N.Y. Times reporter Michael Cieply has an Oscar season piece out this morning. It mainly focuses on Paramount’s intention to push The Curious Case of Benjamin Button big-time. The most interesting line comes from marketing chief Megan Colligan, who says the not quite finished slogan for the film is something along the lines of “you must live your life forward, but it can only be understood backward.”
A portion of the Cieply piece raised an eyebrow. “Some publicists who specialize in Oscar campaigns,” he wrote, “are privately predicting a year-end shootout between Button and Frost/Nixon, a planned December release from Universal Pictures, directed by Ron Howard and with Michael Sheen and Frank Langella in the title roles. The films have been seen by few, but the campaign machinery is already lining up behind them.”
By all reports, Frost/Nixon is a solid film based on a very well-written play (which I saw), but I’m not hearing “favored Best Picture contender” from anyone. That’s certainly not what I’m hearing from a guy who’s seen Frost/Nixon and who’s heard from a trusted L.A. friend that there’s much more to be had from Gus Van Sant‘s Milk, the biopic of slain gay-rights martyr Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn.
This guy — a distribution/exhibition exec whom I’ve known for years and whose views I trust — believes it’s much more likely that Milk will be the shit rather than the Ron Howard film, which he feels is good enough but hardly a Best Picture front-runner.
An L.A.-based journalist (also a friend) says, however, that Frost /Nixon is “Howard’s best film” although “we haven’t seen most of the contenders yet and it’s a little early to say whether it’s going to be in or not. But it’s a classy drama that really works. Designed for the Broadway stage, but it’s been made into a cinematic thing with real suspense and dimension. I really liked it.”
Cieply really goes off the rails when he runs down other possibly Oscar-worthy films. He mentions Marc Abraham‘s more or less discredited Flash of Genius, which was more or less trashed in Telluride. He also lists Clint Eastwood‘s Changeling, which was well received in Cannes (I saw and liked it) but doesn’t quite have that “wow” schwing that puts it into Best Picture contention, even if Angelina Jolie will probably snag a Best Actress nomination.
Cieply also mentions “coming award contenders” like Baz Luhrman‘s Australia, Gabrielle Muccino‘s Seven Pounds and — no joke — Quantum of Solace, which he says has “provoked early Oscar talk.” People are actually telling Michael Cieply that Quantum of Solace is an Oscar contender? For what, special effects? Explosions?