Yesterday morning Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone, Boxoffice.com’s Phil Contrino and I talked about Breaking Dawn, vampire sex, green-blooded erections, bleeding virgins and all that Stephanie Meyer stuff. And The Descendants, The Artist, Hugo, etc. Here’s a non-iTunes, stand-alone link.
In his New Yorker review of The Descendants, Anthony Lane describes the third-act encounter between George Clooney‘s Matt King and Matthew Lillard‘s Brian Speer. The latter’s “little-boy grin, though ideal for selling real estate, tells of panic rather than cheekiness,” Lane writes, “and Brian’s encounter with Matt is not a clash of rutting males but a semi-polite standoff between two fleshy, faltering souls, striving to live up to the brazenness of their shirts.
“We have seen such leisurewear before, on Frank Sinatra and Montgomery Clift, as they toured the local bars, in From Here to Eternity. Both films are infused with the atmosphere of their Hawaiian setting, and its strange compound of chillout and treachery. Everyone remembers Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling in the surf, but stay with that scene and you soon find it foaming with accusation and shame. Something similar happens to The Descendants, with damp squalls and difficult mists nagging at the edge of people’s amicable warmth.
“Both films conclude, too, with floral garlands cast into the ocean, though [director Alexander] Payne provides an aftermath — a delicious downtime, in which Matt and his children sit on the couch with ice cream and watch TV. Death, which has loomed ahead throughout, begins to drift away behind them, and the film completes its journey: from eternity to here.”
There are only five Woody Allen films I’ve had a truly difficult time with, and they were all made within the last 12 years (Scoop, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending, Small-Time Crooks, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger). But during the same period he also made Match Point, Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Sweet and Lowdown so what’s there to complain about really?
The early aughts just weren’t Allen’s time. My personal solution is to put those five stinkers in a compartment in my head and say to myself, “Okay, there they are in case I want to watch them again.”
But even if Allen had made ten stinkers, he’d still be batting over .750 since he’s directed 41 or 42 films since 1969. And I’ll always worship him (and I’m talking deep, deeper-than-deep sympatico) for his morose, darkly confessional sense of humor. To me his line in the above clip about getting into trouble during a movie shoot and saying “I’ll prostitute myself any way I have to to survive this catastrophe”…that’s hilarious.
And I love the story told in Robert Weide‘s Woody Allen: A Documentary (PBS, American Masters, tonight and tomorrow night) about how Allen was so unhappy with Manhattan before it opened that he told United Artists and his producers that he would make another movie for free if they would shelve Manhattan and thereby spare him the embarassment.
I was afraid that Weide’s documentary would be too kind, too flattering. It’s not that. I wouldn’t call it a lacerating, no-holds-barred portrait, but it looks at Allen’s history, output and issues in a reasonably fair and probing way.
Weide’s doc runs over three hours. The first half (roughly 111 minutes, airing tonight) is a more or less sequential and chronological history of his coming-up-through-the-ranks and then finding-his-moviemaking-soul period. It ends on the artistic precipice of the early ’80s. The second half (running 83 minutes, airing tomorrow) abandons the linear and sort of hopscotches around, looking at this and that film or artistic challenge or issue.
I loved the stories about his childhood and early youth in Brooklyn and writing jokes for the New York columnists and his first major gig as one of Sid Ceasar‘s comedy writers for Ceasar’s Hour and suffering through his early stand-up days in the clubs, which he almost stopped doing because he hated it so much.
Weide chats with former flames/partners Diane Keaton and Louise Lasser, former writing partners Marshall Brickman and Doug McGrath, Allen’s sister/producer Letty Aronson, Allen players Owen Wilson, Sean Penn, John Cusack, Larry David, Scarlett Johansson, Tony Roberts and Diane Wiest, former line producer Robert Greenhut and producing partners Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe.
The doc contains nary a word about former producing partner Jean Doumanian, and there are no off-the-cuff “Woody said” lines like the one I heard years ago from Woody’s longtime unit photographer Brian Hamill about Harvey Weinstein, i.e. “he’s not my kind of Jew.”
I didn’t want to hear or know any more about the Mia Farrow–Soon-Yi Previn-child custody battle, and I was relieved that Weide doesn’t give it much attention.
Here are two mp3 chats I recorded a few days ago. The first is with film scholar and critic F.X. Feeney, who for my money delivers the wisest and most knowing talking-head commentary in the film, and also with Ms. Aronson, whom I recently sat down with at Shutters in Santa Monica.
The first time I laid eyes on Allen was sometime around ’76 or ’77. I was walking East on 57th Street and he was coming the other way with a lady friend. I know it was someone famous because he was wearing one of those khaki fishing hats with the brim pulled down. I looked at him, he looked at me and he knew I’d “made” him, and he seemed fairly terrified by this realization. The idea that I might run over and ask for an autograph (which I’ve never done and will never do) or whatever seemed to really disturb him. He looked so upset, in fact, that I flirted with imitating that goombah routine in Annie Hall….you know, the Hoboken meatball guy who comes over and says, “Heyyyy! Alvy Singah!” But the moment passed.
Allen’s sister-producer Letty Aronson during out chat a few days ago at Shutters.
Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone said something this morning about Moneyball‘s gas tank being on empty, at least as far as “the conversation” is concerned. And it shouldn’t be. Attention spans and media heat cycles are shorter than they used to be, and one result is that Bennett Miller‘s masterwork seems to be sputtering despite the Movie Godz being foursquare against this.
Moneyball is ranked higher on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic than the current Best Picture favorite, The Descendants, with a grade of 87 to 84 on Metacritic and 95 to 90 on RT. And it’s made a solid $72.6 million domestic and $88 million worldwide.
The Sony guys need to do something to re-energize the situation. If Warner Bros. can do it for Contagion, they sure as hell can.
“Maybe I didn’t explain the nest egg to you. If you had understood…you know it’s a very sacred thing, the nest egg, and if you had understood the Nest Egg Principle, as we will now call it in the first of many lectures that you will get, because if we are ever to acquire another nest egg, we both have to understand what it means.
“The nest egg is a protector, like a god, and we sit under the nest egg and we are protected by it. Without it, no protection. Want me to go on? It pours rain. Hey! The rain hits the egg and pours off the side. Without the egg? Wet…it’s over. But you didn’t understand it and that’s why we’re where we are.”
The worst hurt is about sensing what might have been, and the most penetrating love scenes are those in which both parties feel this acutely but don’t (can’t, won’t) put it into words. The finales of The Way We Were and Bridges of Madison County had this current (as repellent as this observation may be to the HE hipper-than-thous), and the finale from Elia Kazan‘s Splendor In The Grass had it in spades.
The less you say with dialogue and the more you leave it up to the audience, the better.
Screenings of The Artist and Miss Bala are competing in the near future. (I shouldn’t say any more.) It’s not a matter of seeing either film for the first time, of course, but which screening environment (and especially which post-screening environment) will be the cooler, richer one to bask in…to savor, to wear, to sniff and sip and taste and shoot shit about. Not to mention a shot at taking pictures of the filmmakers and guests. Watching and absorbing an award-calibre film is only a part of it.
A lot of year-end awards stuff will come into focus over the next nine days. Tomorrow afternoon the journos who weren’t invited to see The Iron Lady at last Thursday’s super-exclusive screening will get their own looksee. By next weekend the Warner Bros. guys will almost certainly be screening Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close for the New York Film Critics Circle and National Board of Review in preparation for the following week’s voting. And then comes the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo screening on Monday, 11.28, for the same two groups.
All the frontline stragglers who haven’t yet seen War Horse will get their shot on 11.28 in Los Angeles, and (I’m told) on 11.29 in NYC. And wouldn’t it make sense, by the way, for Film District to screen Angelina Jolie‘s In The Land of Blood and Honey (which mubi.com‘s David Ehrenstein has called “as serious as a heart attack“) for the NYFCC and NBR also? The big finale comes when the NYFCC votes on Tuesday, 11.29, and the NBR the next day, and for two or three weeks after that we’ll hear from a cavalcade of critics groups (with the exception of the slowboat National Society of Film Critics, which announces in early January).
It may well be that War Horse will sweep everyone away, myself included. I’m saying that with sincerity. “I’m just average common too, I’m just like him and the same as you” and if a movie really works, it works. But before the deluge and the Zelig impulse kicks in I’m asking each and every critic out there to please think twice before voting. If your sensibilities and judgment permit it, don’t sap out and go “whee!” and just jump on the easy bandwagon. Please. Please.