Most of us are presuming that for age reasons, Joe Biden won’t run for re-election in ’24. Nobody can even spitball who might be the official Democratic president nominee in ’24 (Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, Pete Buttigieg, Gretchen Whitmer) but rightwing media seems to believe that Fox News host Tucker Carlson, an instantly recognized brand who’s personable and no dummy, would be a formidable Republican candidate.
Gene Siskel: “You have to summon the courage to say what you honestly feel [about a film]. And that’s not easy. There’s a whole new world called political correctness going on, and that is death to a critic, to participate in that. Wanting be liked is another…forget even the world of political correctness. Wanting to be liked, wanting to go along with the group [is] death to a critic. [Forget all that and] take your best shot.”
Roger Ebert: “When you said the word ‘political correctness’ it made me think of college students working for the student papers or writing papers that are going to be read out loud in class…political correctness is the fascism of the ’90s. This feeling that you have to keep your ideas and your way of looking at things within very narrow boundaries or you’ll offend someone. Certainly one of the purposes of journalism is to challenge that kind of thinking. And one of the purposes of criticism is to break boundaries. But what politically correct students are training themselves to do today is to lie…to lie.”
HE to Siskel and Ebert in heaven: Those politically correct college students of the late ’90s are now in positions of power and running the show. You wouldn’t believe what’s happening today at the N.Y. Times, for example. And that p.c. culture has become extremely censorious and punitive. They’re meting out punishment to transgressors and contrarians, and the ultimate p.c. punishment is called “cancelling’ — they’ll murder you on a digital platform called Twitter and get you fired if you persist in saying the wrong thing…so in the film realm if you depart from the officially sanctified view of this or that topic according to, say, Guy Lodge or Jessica Kiang, you’ll get beaten up by the mob. You could even be forced to drive for Uber or work in fast food if you’re not careful.
And you know what else? Many of the smartest big-time critics are just going along with this. Because they’re mice…because they’re afraid of standing up. It’s not that different from the Commie witch hunts of early to mid ’50s. [Thanks to Jordan Ruimy for passing along clip.]
Ebert text from heaven, just received: “Let’s say, for example, that you’re not as much of a fan of the great Ennio Morricone as others. That might brand you as being less perceptive than you should be, but you are absolutely entitled to say that without dodging punches.”
Producer pally: “Why aren’t you reviewing Palm Springs or Relic? Everyone wants to know which new films to watch. You’re getting wrapped up in the dark day-to-day malaise of our limited lives and it’s attracting the very worst from your snarkier readers. I love your column but your joy in reviewing good movies like The Outpost is getting trampled by the anger and bitterness of some posts.
“Your readers come for escape and inspiration. They are looking for some respite from despair. That’s what good movies can do, isn’t it? Don’t forget that part. It’s important.”
HE to producer pally: “Thanks for being a good hombre and a supportive friend. And yeah, escape and inspiration are important. People’s souls need watering but I can’t just turn on the garden hose like Mr. Greenjeans. That’s not how writing works. I have to be true to life in all its burdensome glory and the day-to-day bubble, bubble, toil and trouble AS IT IS, now how you or certain readers might want it to be. I am not a slap-happy escapist — never have been, never will be.
“I just saw Palm Springs last night. And First Cow, finally. Assembling articles as we speak. I wouldn’t watch Relic with a knife at my back.”
Oldie but goodie, posted on 12.18.06: “Not long ago, the Bagger was at a restaurant event with a major film writer and director and ended up in a booth with him for several hours. He admired the man tremendously, [but] did not like his last project. Finally, the subject came up and the Bagger told the truth, after which there was suddenly very little to say.
“Later, Carr asked an experienced colleague if he, Carr, had been wise to speak his mind. ‘No, that was profoundly stupid,’ he was told. ‘They really don’t want to know the truth.’” — from David Carr‘s “Ten Things I Don’t Hate About You, or At Least Your Movie,” also posted on 12.18.06.
“Carr’s friend was right, but I’ll never forget my initial reaction to Michael Bay‘s Armageddon after an Academy screening in June of 1998. It gave me a headache because of the machine-gun-like cutting. As Variety‘s Todd McCarthy famously said at the time, the pace felt like that of ‘a machine gun locked in the firing position.’ This over-accelerated editing, I was later told, was a result of a deliberate Michael Bay strategy of cutting out as many frames as possible in each scene order to make the film play as fast, hard and compressed as possible — i.e., ‘frame-fucked.’
“In any event, when I saw Bruckheimer in the lobby after the screening I did the usual chickenshit industry thing — I half-lied. I told Jerry that the film ‘rocked’ or felt like ‘rocket fuel.’ (Which wasn’t a total lie — it did feel like that, sort of.) As soon as I said this, however, Bruckheimer cocked his head and gave me a ‘look’. He knew I was snowing him, and I knew that he knew. I felt like a snivelling coward, possibly due to the fact that I was being precisely that. He didn’t look at me for the rest of the evening.
“I later shared this moment with a director friend, and he told me one of his own. A very big (one could use the word ‘legendary’) producer told him that an actress in a scene he was directing was ‘fucking smiling‘ too often, ‘just like fucking Tom Cruise…always smiling, always with the teeth. Tell her to cut it out.’ The director later spoke to the actress, who had seen him speaking with the big-name producer. ‘Did he say anything about me?’ she asked. The director replied, ‘He compared you to Tom Cruise.'”
World of Reel‘s Jordan Ruimy is about to post the results of a Best of 2020 critic poll. (No filmmakers this time — just seasoned dweeb cineastes.) I’m seen the results but will reserve comment until Ruimy posts tomorrow (Friday, 7.10). Was I surprised by the #1 winner? Somewhat but not entirely. Let’s just say that the vote was to some extent political.
In this upside-down year a six-month assessment doesn’t carry the same weight as before. Award-consideration-wise 2020 won’t end until 2.28.21 — or just under eight months hence. A noteworthy percentage of possibly award-worthy films may open in January or February. So determining the best films released between January and June ’20 is merely a start.
Here are Hollywood Elsewhere’s top 2020 films, coming 10 days after the six-month mark. I’m clear on the top five or six, and the rest are surging or fading as the world turns. Oh, and by the way I’m not including Hamilton, good as it is, because it’s not a film but filmed theatre — a whole ‘nother deal.
HE’s top 2020 film is still J’Accuse (aka An Officer and a Spy), which I streamed in late March. My second favorite is still The King of Staten Island. My third, fourth, fifth and sixth favorites are Les Miserables, The Outpost, The Wild Goose Lake and Bad Education.
1. Roman Polanski‘s J’Accuse (An Officer and a Spy): [posted on 3.25.20] “J’Accuse has been crafted with absolute surgical genius…a lucid and exacting and spot-on retelling of an infamous episode of racial prejudice…a sublime atmospheric and textural recapturing of 1890s ‘belle epoque’ Paris, and such a meticulous, hugely engrossing reconstruction of the Dreyfus affair…a tale told lucidly…clue by clue, layer by layer. Pretty much a perfect film.
It’s absolutely criminal that more than 10 months after J’Accuse opened at the Venice Film Festival, this awesome drama can’t even be streamed. There’s apparently no disputing that Polanski behaved odiously with two or three women in the ‘70s, above and beyond the matter of Samantha Geimer. There’s nonetheless something fundamentally diseased about banning great art…about suppressing one of the sharpest and most exactingly reconstructed historical films ever made. The last time I checked many people were capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Brilliant film, personally flawed director — simple enough.
2. Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson‘s The King of Staten Island. [posted on 6.8.20] “A well-crafted film with heart and honesty and a relatable personality. And which ends…well, hopefully. You can say it’s too oddball fringe-y, too lower-depths, too submerged on its own weed planet and too caught up in nihilism and arrested development to connect with Joe and Jane Popcorn. Which I strongly disagree with. Because it’s funny and plain-spoken (if a bit dismaying at times) and it doesn’t back off from an unusual milieu and mentality, and certainly from Davidson‘s ‘Scott’, a layabout for the ages.”
3. Ladj Ly‘s Les Miserables (Amazon, opened in January,) [re-reviewed on 12.13.19]: “Ladj Ly‘s film is just as socially incisive as Bong Joon-ho‘s Parasite, and it has no insane story-logic issues. And a much better ending. It would be a major miscarriage of artistic justice if Les Miserables doesn’t at least emerge as one of the Best International Feature Oscar nominees.”
4. Rod Lurie‘s The Outpost [reviewed 3.6.30] — “A U.S. forces-vs.-the-Taliban war flick based on Jake Tapper’s book, The Outpost is a rousing, highly emotional drill into another tough battle that actually happened, and another example of the kind of combat flick to which we’ve all become accustomed — one in which the U.S. forces get their asses kicked and barely survive.”
5. Diao Yinan‘s The Wild Goose Lake. [posted on 2.13.20] “In my humble opinion, Diao Yinan‘s The Wild Goose Lake is one of the most visually inventive, brilliantly choreographed noir thrillers I’ve ever seen. One of them surely. I probably haven’t felt this knocked out, this on-the-floor, this ‘holy shit’-ified by sheer directorial audacity and musicality since Alfonso Cuaron‘s Children of Men.”
6. Cory Finley and Mike Makowski‘s Bad Education [posted on 4.28.20]: “HBO’s Bad Education is a somewhat riveting, fact-based drama about a bizarre heist in plain sight. The focus is the infamous Roslyn embezzlement scandal of the early aughts. But I couldn’t get it up when I tried to write about it. This was because I couldn’t quite comprehend the insanely self-destructive acts of administrative thievery that this film is…well, partly about. It’s also about the generally insane notion that living high on the hog is everything in life, and that all you need to sleep through this kind of brazen flim-flamming is a little vial of denial.”
From Kelly Reichardt, the respected fringe-indie director of First Cow, which I’ll definitely watch later today:
What “damsel in distress”? Rick Dalton’s Italian wife? And it was Rick, not Cliff Booth, who used a flame thrower on one “scummy hippie”, i.e., Susan Atkins in the pool. And if Reichardt really and truly doesn’t understand the allure of a shirtless Brad Pitt on the roof…well, what can be said except “whatever, Kelly…go with God.”
Tell me truly…are you thinking of bailing on the 2020 Telluride Film Festival? I’m weeping as I write this but staunch longtime attendees are telling me they’re on the fence and maybe tipping toward not going…maybe.
Some kind of local vote or referendum will happen on Wednesday, July 15th, or so I gather. A festival of some sort may happen between 9.3 and 9.7, but will Tom and Julie be able to present the usual array of hot award-season contenders?
I for one am ready and willing to risk…er, face the slight micro-possibility of a health challenge in order to experience a glorious renewal of that old time Rocky Mountain film religion…but that’s me.
I’m told that a few…okay, more than a few nervous nellies are expressing concern about attending the 2020 Telluride Film Festival, which will kick off eight weeks hence. Visitors will arrive on Wednesday, 9.2, and leave on Monday, 9.7.
The concern is that Los Angelenos, who will constitute most of the visiting throng (along with a significant percentage of New Yorkers), might be risking exposure to COVID-19 — on the plane or in the town, or certainly inside theatres.
And yet the statistical likelihood is that of less than one percent of potential Telluride attendees might be infected…maybe. And most likely fewer than that.
Hollywood Elsewhere’s theory is that the Los Angeles industry folk who would attend Telluride aren’t young, cavalier, incautious, come-what-may, party-animal types, and are mostly the opposite — older, prudent, cautious, mask-wearing, hand-washing types.
So it’s not like “Californians” en masse will be attending but residents of industry-centric Hollywood, West Hollywood, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Venice, Santa Monica, Malibu and Manhattan Beach.
I’m not great with math but consider these figures from LA County’s Public Health site:
Of West Hollywood’s 36,384 residents, 300 are infected with COVID-19 — less than 1%. Out of Beverly Hills’ 34,362 residents, just under 1% are infected. Santa Monica has 92,078 residents, and of these 457 are infected — one-half of 1%. Manhattan Beach has 35,773 residents with 169 infected — less than half of 1%. Malibu has 12,846 residents with 57 infected — less than 1/2 of a percentage point. Of Hollywood’s 90,322 residents, 543 are infected — .6% or a tad more than half of 1%. Venice has 111 infected out of 40,885 residents — close to .3%. Of West LA’s 42,797 residents, 238 are infected — 1/2 of 1%. And so on.
Residents of Brentwood’s Mandeville Canyon number 2571, and of these only 4 people are infected.
I’m naturally presuming that the percentage of Los Angelenos travelling to Telluride would be significantly less than 1/2 of one percent, because what kind of idiot who’s been infected would want to attend in the first place? Yeah, I know — asymptomatic carriers might have it without realizing. But we’re still talking about an extremely small micro-percentage.
On top of which Telluride, Colorado, which has a total native population of 2,484, is nearly disease-free. A 6.22.20 Telluride News story reported 12 new infections, and these won’t constitute the reality around Labor Day. The total cases in San Miguel County, which numbers 8,191, was recently 28 “with 12 active cases and 22 recovered,” the story said. That’s .3% of the population.
Most of us understand “critical race theory“, which holds that white privilege and white supremacy have been long ingrained in American society.
And many of us have read or at least skimmed the N.Y. Times‘ “1619 Project“, which basically says that the history of the United States and the character of its paleface citizens have been defined by racism and white supremacy all along, and that this poison is embedded in our social root structure**, and that whether they realize it or not whitebreads need to submit to intensive anti-racist training to even begin to fix things.
These claims and interpretations have mostly been the concern of cultural elites over the last 15 or 20 years, but now, through the good graces of Oprah Winfrey, the New York Times and Lionsgate, a series of feature films and television shows based on “The 1619 Project” will eventually become a mass-market reality.
There are many academics who’ve disputed the accuracy of “The 1619 Project” (including a group of African American academics who comprise “The 1776 Project“), but I’m going to rely upon New York magazine’s Andrew Sullivan, who posted an argument on 9.3.19.
His piece was mainly about the radical culture of the N.Y. Times. It was titled “How The New York Times Has Abandoned Liberalism for Activism.” Here’s an excerpt:
“The New York Times, by its executive editor’s own admission, is increasingly engaged in a project of reporting everything through the prism of white supremacy and critical race theory, in order to ‘teach’ its readers to think in these crudely reductionist and racial terms.
“That’s why ‘The 1619 Project’ wasn’t called, say, a ‘special issue’ but a ‘project’. It’s as much activism as journalism.
“And that’s the reason I’m dwelling on this a few weeks later. I’m constantly told that critical race theory is secluded on college campuses, and has no impact outside of them — and yet the newspaper of record, in a dizzyingly short space of time, is now captive to it. Its magazine covers the legacy of slavery not with a variety of scholars, or a diversity of views, but with critical race theory, espoused almost exclusively by black writers, as its sole interpretative mechanism.
“Don’t get me wrong. I think that view deserves to be heard. The idea that the core truth of human society is that it is composed of invisible systems of oppression based on race (sex, gender, etc.), and that liberal democracy is merely a mask to conceal this core truth, and that a liberal society must therefore be dismantled in order to secure racial/social justice is a legitimate worldview. (That view that ‘systems’ determine human history and that the individual is a mere cog in those systems is what makes it neo-Marxist and anti-liberal.)
“But I sure don’t think it deserves to be incarnated as the only way to understand our collective history, let alone be presented as the authoritative truth, in a newspaper people rely on for some gesture toward objectivity.
“This is therefore, in its over-reach, ideology masquerading as neutral scholarship.
“The NYT [has chosen] a neo-Marxist rather than liberal path to make a very specific claim: that slavery is not one of many things that describe America’s founding and culture, [but] is the definitive one.