It’s built into our genes to show obeisance before power. It’s obviously a big tendency in Hollywood circles, but hardly an exclusive one. Every culture, every species does the bow-down.
I was speaking the other night to this know-it-all guy who goes to a lot of Academy screenings and parties, and we were talking about possible Best Actor nominees. We’d both just seen Ray and knew for sure Jamie Foxx was a shoo-in, but who else?
“Paul Giamatti,” I said.
“Who?” he asked.

“The lead in Sideways,” I reminded him. “He’s amazing, heartbreaking… and the film is masterful.”
“Yeah, he was good,” he replied. Uh-huh…. not impressed. He’d seen Sideways and liked it, he said, but he had a certain criticism of something Giamatti did in the film that I’m not going to repeat. It was about something obscure that nobody anywhere has mentioned.
What he really meant, I suspect, was that he didn’t empathize with Giamatti and/or his “Miles” character because he’s balding and chubby and a bit of a loser, and the guy wasn’t feeling the tribal urge to celebrate the splendor of Giamatti’s craft. Because for him, superb performances in and of themselves lack a certain primal current.
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Then he started in about Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator. He’d seen the upcoming Martin Scorsese film (opening 12.17) and didn’t want to tell me much, but he liked Dicaprio’s portrayal of Howard Hughes… mostly. But he had a couple of beefs. One was that Leo doesn’t look much like Hughes, and the other is that he looks too young.
“He’s 29 now,” I reminded.
“He looks like a kid.”
“But does he get Hughes?” I asked. “You know, does he channel him?”
He kept beating around the bush, but the basic answer seemed to be that he found DiCaprio worthy but not overwhelming.
“That’s what people said about him in Gangs of New York,” I replied. “Some said he was miscast, but I thought he was absolutely believable as an immigrant. He really had that scared-rat look in his eyes.”
The conversation went on a bit and then he suddenly flipped over. He said that based on his awareness of Academy types and their inclinations, DiCaprio would probably end up with a Best Actor nomination.

“But you just said he was pretty good but not great in the role, and looks like a kid and doesn’t really resemble Hughes,” I said.
Yeah, he said, but a Best Actor nom is still a likelihood, or so his instincts were telling him.
In other words, however good, pretty good or wonderful the Aviator might turn out to be, it’s a big expensive movie coming at the end of the year, and corporate-funded films that have spent well north of $100 million in their desire to win the admiration of the community are given the benefit of the doubt, sight unseen.
Big subject, big canvas, fascinating lead character grounded in old-Hollywood lore. Just what the Academy ordered. And so DiCaprio gets the come-hither and Giamatti has to struggle and prove himself and wait out on the sidewalk.
I realize, of course, that DiCaprio may be phenomenal in The Aviator. He’s a truly gifted actor. And I don’t trust that guy I spoke to at all — he’s not the most insightful, ahead-of-the-curve person I know.
But something smells in the town of Carmel when a performance as skilled and deeply expressive as Paul Giamatti’s in Sideways is reluctantly regarded as a “maybe.”


Laura Linney is one of our great actresses. She’s the successor to Meryl Streep. In just about every film she’s in, she kills.
I’m saying this because ’04 is turning out to be her best year since ’00, when she gave a pitch-perfect performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me and snagged a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
In my estimation, Linney has given far and away the best female lead performance in Dylan Kidd’s P.S. (Newmarket, 10.15), in which she plays a 40ish Columbia University admissions consultant who falls head over heels in love with a young student (Topher Grace) who seems like a dead ringer for a former boyfriend, and who might even be a reincarnation.

If you ask me, she’s also delivered the second-best supporting actress performance of the year (after Sideways‘s Virginia Madsen) as Liam Neeson’s spirited wife Clara in Kinsey.
Please send in any reactions to her performance in P.S. when it opens a week from today. I’m not over-reacting, but tell me if you think I am.
It’s good that these roles happened this year for Linney, since she had a terrible phase last year with two clunkers.
Her performance in the thoroughly revolting Love Actually was fine, but smothered in treacle as thick as Elmer’s Glue-All. There was nothing un-genuine about her performance in Alan Parker’s The Life of David Gale, but it was such a widely-panned film that it sank like a stone and took everyone down with it.


The plan was to drive up to San Francisco this morning to take in part of the Mill Valley Film Festival, which began last night (Thursday, 10.7) and continues until Sunday, 10.17. Except I decided this morning to blow the whole trip off, for reasons you don’t want to hear.
The plan now is to go up next weekend for the final three days. Festival director Mark Fishkin got David O. Russell to come up for Thursday’s opening-night showing of I Heart Buckabee’s, which opens in cities all over starting today (10.8). (Be sure to read Kim Morgan’s piece on Huckabee’s in her new High and Low column, which went up last night.)


A piece by Dave Lindorff that went up on Salon this morning (10.8) is keeping alive the Big Question of the Moment, which is about whether President Bush cheated during last week’s debate with John Kerry. The speculation is that he was fed cues and answers through an earpiece hooked up to a wireless receiver.
There’s a similar story about this by John Reynolds on Salon that went up last weekend. There’s also a site called that gets into the whole thing with links and commentary.

There are two pieces of evidence that make this charge hard to dismiss out of hand. One, there’s a photo taken of Bush’s back during the debate showing something bulging under his suit jacket, between his shoulder blades. Two, Bush inexplicably said “Let me finish” in the middle of responding to a Kerry statement when nobody was trying to butt in or challenge him.
The speculation is that Bush was listening to input from Karl Rove or some Rove flunky, and, being the stream-of-consciousness type, vocally and unintentionally told the earpiece guy to shut up while he was trying to make his point.
You can hear the sound bite here. And the photo in question shows some kind of solid object under Bush’s suit jacket poking through in the upper middle portion of his back.
We all know Bush is always being prompted and propped up tto within an inch of his life by his handlers, but relying on earpiece prompts during the debate, if it turns out to have actually happened, clearly isn’t cricket. Why isn’t “Hardball”‘s Chris Matthews all over this? The evidence isn’t conclusive, but it sure is intriguing.


I heard from a reader named Peter MacKenzie in Nairobi, Kenya, the other day. I asked him what the weather is like, how the air smells, what the women are like, what movies are playing and how much it costs to get a beer in a local bar. Here’s his reply:
“Kenya is beautiful right now. I just went on safari for a couple of weeks with some friends visiting from the states. The ‘short rains’ start soon, but for now it’s sunny, dry and about 80 degrees every day. Although Nairobi is only about 50 miles from the Equator, it’s about the same altitude as Denver so it’s not too hot, not too cold most of the year.

“The air in Nairobi smells like burning trash and diesel exhaust a lot of the time, though once you get out of the city it’s about the freshest air you could ask for. And yes, there are some unbelievable women, though unfortunately many of the real knockouts can be seen hanging off the arms of dumpy septuagenarian British expats (shades of Michael Caine in The Quiet American).
“A bottle of Tusker (the local brew) will set you back 100 shillings (about $1.25) in the expat-frequented bars, and barely half that in the roadside shack pubs the local workers hit on their way home.
“Movies playing at the cinemas in Nairobi: King Arthur, Pride And Prejudice, The Terminal, Garfield, The Village, Chronicles of Riddick, I, Robot, Dodgeball, The Butterfly Effect and several Bollywood musicals for the local Indian community.
“Two four-screen movie theaters will be opening within five miles of my home in
the next six months, so hopefully the selection will improve.
“I would definitely recommend an East African safari if you ever have a couple of weeks to kill, thought there aren’t a lot of film festivals in the region to provide a work excuse (unless you think your readers absolutely need to be updated on the Zanzibar International Film Festival).”


“I’ve seen Laura Linney in P.S. and completely agree with you it’s the best work done by an American actress this year, although Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes close in a role that is equally tricky and complex. There isn’t a note in this film that Linney doesn’t play, and her performance (and the film) gets deeper as the film progresses, particularly in the late scenes with Paul Rudd, Gabriel Byrne and Marcia Gay Harden.
“The relationship between the two women is at least as complex, if not more, than between Linney and Topher Grace. When was the last time you saw a female character in an American film who’s this developed and interesting on both personal and professional levels — daughter, sister, best friend, ex-wife, lover, possibly failed artist? Linney does it all here.
“And P.S. is a very clever film, using a potentially fantastical premise as a tool to deconstruct and repair a series of bitter relationships. I’m not sure if I can think of another actress who could sell me on this role, at least not with the number of dimensions Linney plays — angry, astonished, disillusioned, in love, confused, jealous, at peace. Possibly her best moment comes in a small scene set in a pool-hall restaurant where Grace says exactly the right thing to her at the right moment.
“Linney doesn’t striek me as the new Meryl Streep as much as a variation of Linney in each performance, which I mean not in any derogatory fashion. It’s just that she always seems to drive through films with a cynical, hard-edged intelligence that seems very contemporary, even in films like Kinsey and The House of Mirth. I thought Love Actually (you’re being too hard on this one) and Linney were both fine, though interesting that she’s the only one in the picture who ends up stoic and alone, without a happily-ever-after.” — Lee Shoquist

Wells to Shoquist: The saccharine grotesqueness of Love Actually aside (I wasn’t too hard on it — it’s a deeply disgusting film), your perceptions about Linney are very well put, and you’re obviously coming from a place of great feeling.
“Thanks for voicing your appreciation for the magnificent Laura Linney. I’d always liked her in the mediocre studio movies she was doing in the mid ’90s (Congo, Primal Fear, Absolute Power), and was glad when she started landing quality film roles in recent years.
“What sold me on Linney as a world-class talent, however, was seeing her on Broadway in Sight Unseen this past summer. I found her work was astonishing in a slightly above-average, somewhat dated play. The story unfolds out of chronological order, so that we transition between scenes of bitter ex-lovers meeting again in their late 30s and flashbacks to their college romance.
“The play climaxes when Linney’s ex-boyfriend, now a famous artist whom she never really got over, reveals that the only reason he’s tracked her down is to buy back a portrait he painted of her that is now worth a fortune. Linney’s character, who has since entered into a marriage of convenience and secluded herself in rural England, cherishes this piece as the one remnant of her youthful, happy self. When the ex-boyfriend and new husband convince her to give up the painting, her breakdown scene is gut-wrenching. No one in the
audience seemed to be breathing.
“Then the final scene of the play flashes back to when Linney and her ex (Angels in America‘s Ben Shenkman) first met, when she posed for the portrait. The transition from the bitter, lonely, heartbroken version of Linney’s character to the naive, youthfulversion is mesmerizing. You could swear she looked a decade younger.
“After the performance (a Saturday matinee in which my friend and I seemed to be the only people under 90), Linney even came out onstage in a bathrobe to do an audience Q&A, nobly responding to inane questions and shouts of ‘What’d she say?’ She seems like a real class act.” — Rob Watson, Boston, MA.