“Mel Gibson‘s Apocalypto. Just saw it. Actually paid. Good news: no Jews, lots of Mayans. No circumcisions but lots of other incisions. When Gibson directed and yelled ‘cut,’ a lot of guys in the cast took him literally.” — Marc Wallace, a loyal Manhattan reader,.
Phyllis Somerville arguably gives the best performance in Todd Field‘s Little Children. Her character — May McGorvey, a scrappy, willful, care-worn mother of a convicted sex offender named Ronny (Jackie Earl Haley) — is one of the few adults in the film (the title refers to a state of arrested adolescence among most of the characters) and seems the most earnest and grounded. What I really mean, I suppose, is that I saw her character as the only one I could really trust.
This is precisely what I said to Field during our chat at the Toronto Film Festival only an hour or two after I first saw the film. As good as Haley, Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Connelly are in their roles, Somerville seems the most solid and whole.
Meaning that she “deserves award attention,” as Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers wrote several weeks ago. Children is one of the best-reviewed films of the year, I’m thinking, and somebody ought to end up with some kind of tangible honor at the end of the day. (I’m saying this with a feeling that Winslet’s Best Actress heat may be waning a tiny bit.)
Does Somerville have any kind of shot? She has a lot of strong competitors, but maybe. It would help, obviously, if one or two of the critics groups singled her out. The hard fact (and this needs saying) is she’s not getting that much support from New Line Cinema, which has been nickle-and-diming Little Children‘s awards campaign all along and, according to one insider, doesn’t even provide a photo of Somerville in the standard press packet.
I sat down with Somerville at Manhattan’s Blue Water Grill earlier this week. The recording I made of our chat is a mess (repeatedly admitting to flubbed interview recordings has been an irritating staple of this column in recent weeks). I can at least say that she’s sharp and friendly and very dyed-in-the-wool Manhattan-ish, which comes from having lived in the same St. Mark’s Place apartment for the last 37 years. And that she has the vibe of someone who’s lived a fairly full and vivid life.
Somerville is short and wiry (as is Haley — they actually look like mother and son). She has a Middle-American accent — she was born and raised in the open-plains region — and speaks in a matter-of-fact way. Her gray hair is long and dramatically swept back. She owns a great-looking black leather jacket and wears Ray-Ban shades during her strolls around lower Manhattan. Or she was, at least, on the day we met.
She got the role, in part, because of a recommendation by longtime actor friend William Wise, who knew Field from having played Tom Wilkinson‘s chubby best friend in Field’s feature directing debut, In The Bedroom.
She owns a computer and goes online, etc., but she still uses dial-up and has yet to furnish the IMDB people with a bio, and it goes without saying there’s no Phyllis Somerville website of any kind. She says she has a web-savvy friend who helps her with this stuff so maybe she’ll be upping her cyber-profile down the road.
I don’t know what else to say except to repeat that she’s damn good in Little Chil- dren, and hope that others who haven’t yet come to a crystal-clear realization of this fact will at least give it a think-through.
Nothing looks sensational this weekend. Yesterday’s numbers on Apocalypto (Touchstone, 12.8) were at 82, 24 and 12…although it still has a 14 % definitely-not-interested. It might eke out $10 million or so. Blood Diamond (Warner Bros.) is at 76, 28 and 14. It’s played moderately well with some but the reviews are not there . A strong show of support by women probably means that Nancy Meyers‘ The Holiday (Columbia) will at least be competitive and may do better than indicated by Thursday’s figures (i.e., 74, 29, 8). Unaccompanied Minors was at 59, 19 and 1…no business to speak of.
The first tracking figures on Dreamgirls (12.15), which almost certainly indicates the effects of mostly urban advertising, is now at 43 % general awareness and a 29 % definite interest…but it also has a definitely-not-interested rating of 13%, which is high. This is most likely your white cracker rurals telling phone surveyors they don’t want to see a black musical with a gay sensibility, blah, blah. The numbers will go up next week either way.
The biggest numbers of the month are going to be earned by The Pursuit of Happyness (Columbia, 12.15).
“On Monday, millions will be waiting breathlessly for the results from the New York Film Critic Circle Awards,” writes N.Y. Times Oscar guy David Carr (a.k.a. “the Bagger”). “Okay, that’s patently not true, but dozens, at least, will be breathing heavily as they wait to find out what gives. The Bagger has done nothing by way of investigation, save talking to a friend who talked to some other friends who know some people. So, with a sampling error that approaches 100 percent, he can say with certain uncertainty that The Departed might sneak in.
“This year, some love the tidy achievement of The Queen, while others are stuck on Pan’s Labyrinth. Alfonso Cuaron has his posse as well, so maybe Children of Men will get its first visibility of the season. Don’t look for Letters from Iwo Jima to remain on a New York roll. The smartypants who sit in this circle have a bit of a Clint issue, and refused to get their arms around either Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby.”
Having delighted over Bill Nighy‘s performance in David Hare‘s The Vertical Hour two nights ago at the Music Box, it suddenly hit me this morning that I haven’t attempted to bring any Oscar- season favor whatsoever upon a fascinating Nighy performance that easily qualifies as Best Supporting Actor-level. No, not his older-husband-of-Cate Blanchett role in Notes From a Scandal (in which he’s perfectly fine) — I mean his gloppy squid-faced Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dean Man’s Chest.
In this otherwise-despised film Nighy not only filled the shoes of the greatest movie villain to come along in years, but gave the year’s most under-valued performance because nobody regarded Jones as anything more than a CG crea- tion. Half it was that, yes…but the other half came straight from Nighy. I wrote last summer that under the makeup, Nighy “delivers his lines with perfectly honed humor and wit. He should be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, really.” 50 or 100 years from now audiences will be getting and savoring what Nighy did here. I think it merits a fresh salute right now.
By the way, please read John Lahr‘s review of The Vertical Hour and especially Nighy’s performance in this 12.4 New Yorker piece.
A tiny bit more than one out of three moviegoers — 34% — would avoid any movie Tom Cruise is starring in, according to a just-published Gallup poll. I knew the guy had high negatives but not that high. The actor with the next highest negative rating — 18% — is Angelina Jolie. What could that be about? People don’t like her because she’s too pretty, too rich, adopts orphans, makes noises “like an animal being killed” during lovemaking…. what? The third highest neg rating — 15% — was earned by Mel Gibson.
In Blood Diamond (Warner Bros., opening today), Leonardo DiCaprio “plays Danny Archer, a Rhodesian-born diamond smuggler who, having been orphaned during his native country’s violent struggles in the 1970s, has spent most of his 30-some years crisscrossing the continent as a soldier of fortune and a merchant of misery. Tousled and tanned, with a long, slicing gait and a killer smile, Danny looks as if he were born for trouble of the sweetest kind.
“But Mr. DiCaprio, perhaps because he knows that much of the audience has already crawled into his pocket, plays the smuggler as the scum he is. Even as the film coaxes Danny toward redemption, the actor fights to hold his ground and the truth of a character who has inspired the most fully sustained performance of his adult life.” — from Manohla Dargis‘ N.Y. Times review.
“The public narrative surrounding Apocalypto is almost all about [Mel] Gibson, and hardly at all about the movie,” writes Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir. “Can the demented Captain Ahab accomplishment of this film outweigh, in the hearts and minds of movie-biz insiders, Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic tirade or his general reputation as a religious fanatic and all-around nutjob?
“Well, having seen Apocalypto I have two things to tell you: Mel Gibson has serious issues with violence and masculinity, and if there’s really ‘Oscar buzz’ around this picture, then everyone in Hollywood really is an idiot.” (This is a reference to Sharon Waxman‘s piece in the 12.4 N.Y. Times that credited Apocalypto with same.)
“There are about 10 truly amazing minutes in Apocalypto, when the film’s hero, a captured villager named Jaguar Paw (played by the Native American actor Rudy Youngblood), is brought into a Maya city as a prisoner and taken to the central pyramid, where captives are being sacrificed by the score to appease Kukulcan, supreme god of the Maya pantheon (equivalent to the Toltec-Aztec god Quetzalcoatl). And that’s about it.”