Danced Out

And so begins my eighth and final day in Park City, Utah, and I can’t think of a common thread or theme that fits the experience. The days have burned through like a lit dynamite fuse in a Sam Peckinpah film, only there hasn’t been any kind of explosive finish and I don’t expect there to be. I’m just looking for a clean exit.
All I want to do today is see two or three more films (Hustle & Flow again, just for fun…and then Heights, This Revolution or Ellie Parker), tap out some final thoughts on Thursday morning, and fly home.

(l. to r.) The Ballad of Jack and Rose costars Paul Dano, Camilla Belle and Ryan McDonald at Newmarket’s Chumscrubber party at the Village at the Lift — Tuesday, 1.26.05, 12:05 am.

And then, 18 hours later, around mid-afternoon on Friday, drive up to the Santa Barbara Film Festival and catch the opening-night showing of Melinda and Melinda, the new Woody Allen film.
I’ll guess I’ll be seeing Saturday’s award ceremony on the Sundance Channel like everyone else, and saying to myself, as I do every year, “Darn…I should’ve tried harder to see that one.” Like an atomic clock, like a dependably dull accountant who’s never gone to Italy and never will, I miss several cool films with every new Sundance Film Festival. They’re hot, playing, everyone’s on ’em…I miss ’em.
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Having nothing vital to say, I’ll say this…
* After Monday’s screening of The Squid and the Whale at the Racquet Club, I asked director-writer Noah Baumbach about the similarities between this film and the last three efforts of his colleague Wes Anderson — Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, which Anderson and Baumbach co-wrote.
All four (a) are about a group of extremely bright and precocious types who are gathered together over family ties, school or work, (b) use lots of dry, deadpan dialogue, (c) use a selfish and immature father figure in his 50s at the axis of things, (d) include people at cross-purposes over sexual intrigues, and (e) use selectively-chosen ’60s and ’70s pop tunes on the soundtrack.
I noted these similarities and asked Baumbach in what ways he and Anderson diverge. He seemed uncomfortable with such comparisons, and said he would in fact “dispute” them.
I mentioned to Baumbach after the q & a that while Wes’s films seem to take place in slightly unreal milieus (a place I’ve called “Andersonville”) and are a bit on the oblique, less-than-fully-revealing side when it comes to emotional matters, The Squid and the Whale, which is a partly autobiographical piece based on the strife between Baumbach’s parents when he was a kid in the mid ’80s, is more plain- spoken and even wounding regarding matters of the heart.
* The hot-ticket ensemble flicks that were at least partly about teen angst — The Chumscrubber, Brick, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, Thumbsucker — all seemed to rank as interesting attempts rather than accomplished successes. None exuded the abundant clarity of purpose or confidence or stylistic brio that wakes you up or turns your head around.
The best liked, for what it was worth, appears to be Thumbsucker. And the least successful, to judge by the technical questions asked at Tuesday night’s post-screening q & a session at the Eccles, was The Chumscrubber. (Technical questions always indicate that people are flummoxed about what a film amounts to, or just flat-out don’t like it.)
* John Maybury’s The Jacket (Warner Independent), which was exec produced by Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney and Peter Guber (whose support is supposed to convey the notion that this is a smart, above-average enterprise, which it is) was the second high-grade horror-thriller I saw in connection with Sundance ’05, the initial entry being Wolf Creek.
This is Adrien Brody’s best film (and includes his best performance) since The Pianist.
If it has a spiritual as well as visual cousin, it’s David Croneneberg’s The Dead Zone — another downbeat drama set in a wintry Vermont about a decent, kind-hearted guy tormented by disturbing visions of the future. The fact that Maybury’s film concludes on a note of caring and compassion (the theme is about the relative shortness and instability of life) only adds to its stature.
* I feel especially badly about not trying harder to see Eugene Jarecki’s Why We Fight, which two or three people have recommended to me; Marcos Siega’s Pretty Persuasion, which I wanted to see because it angered or turned off so many; Steve James’ Reel Paradise (although John Pierson has offered to help get me a screener copy); and Kirby Dick’s Twist of Faith, which was just Oscar-nominated for Best Feature Documentary.
* The most satisfying Sundance films I’ve seen over the last seven days, in this order, are Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow, Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, Greg Mclean’s Wolf Creek, Craig Lucas’ The Dying Gaul, Suzanne Bier’s Brothers and Sebastian Cordero’s Brothers.

Flyer vs. Boxer

Whether or not Million Dollar Baby or The Aviator wins the Best Picture Oscar on February 27th is not, I feel, a vitally important matter.
Nonetheless, Martin Scorsese’s period film was handed 11 Oscar nominations this morning (Tuesday, 1.25), including, naturally, one for Best Picture. This means it will now be the recipient of a psychological bandwagon effect among lazy-minded media types and Academy voters.

Not to be disrespectful, but if that emotionally obtuse, atmospherically un-genuine, overly CG-ed, 1930s dress-up, urine-milk-bottled, Gwen-Stefani-as-Jean-Harlow movie about Howard Hughes wins I will feel very badly.
Not quite as awful as I did when Return of the King and Chicago won, but pretty damn bad.
Any film lover with any kind of fair-minded insight into this competition will most likely feel the same way. An Aviator win will be an occasion for moaning and mourning, except, of course, for interested parties like Gold’s Tom O’Neill, a devoted Scorsese ass-muncher since last November.
The Aviator is a “good” film, but nowhere near good enough to be named as the year’s best.
The concept of its alleged superiority is obviously a stretch, but guess what? To a lot of industry watchers who should know better, this doesn’t matter.
“The Oscar’s been going to bigger productions lately, like Chicago, Gladiator and Lord of the Rings,” Entertainment Weekly‘s Dave Karger told a USA Today reporter for a story that went up today. “And no film is bigger than The Aviator.”
Sentiments like these are grotesque…appalling. Karger may be right, but he should be ashamed of himself for airing views of the Oscar race that are short-sighted and wrong and retrograde.

The Aviator has the numbers, a certain admiration and, judging from what I keep hearing, rote Academy support, but Million Dollar Baby has the edge on quality, serious art-film chops, and a straight-to-the-heart component.
Finding Neverland and Ray have never been serious Best Picture contenders, not really, and there are apparently people in the Academy who actually hate Sideways. (I spoke to a former studio bigwig a few weeks ago who used the “h” word, believe it or not, to describe his feelings about it).
The anti-Sideways sentiment is really an anti-Miles sentiment. Some Academy members (i.e., enough to constitute a serious voting block) don’t relate to a lonely pudgy loser who drinks too much wine at the wrong moments, although critics obviously feel differently.
Call it a genetic-aversion factor, but this, in a nutshell, is why Paul Giamatti didn’t get a Best Actor nomination, although he obviously deserves it as much as Jamie Foxx, Clint Eastood or Leonardo DiCaprio…and somewhat more, if you ask me, than Johnny Depp or Don Cheadle.

This, then, is the Best Picture dynamic on the morning of the Oscar nominations, which, obviously, has left me feeling vaguely bummed, cynical and dismissive of mainstream tastes.
We’re looking at a showdown between an eye-filling, reasonably decent film in certain respects vs. a powerful relationship film with a devastating finale that — I’ve been hearing — has prompted some folks of a rightist, traditionalist bent to pull back a bit and look elsewhere.
It’s a choice between an epic-sized, conventionally grandiose period drama about a twitchy oddball Hollywood pioneer…a movie that nobody but nobody feels is any kind of genuinely great film (but which many people in the technical branches feel compelled to vote for because for this or that political reason) vs. a shadowy, relatively quiet father-daughter drama that actually touches the heart and sticks to the ribs.
One of the enduring sentiments out there is that Martin Scorsese deserves his Best Director Oscar because it’s been denied him so long, etc. Scorsese should have won it for Raging Bull 23 years ago, yes, but Oscar handicapper Pete Hammond noted this morning that many great directors (Alfred Hitchcock, et. al.) have been given the Academy cold-shoulder.

“Scorsese is owed an Oscar? Well, get in line,” Hammond said. Using the logic of the Scorsese supporters this year, Hammond asked, “Does this mean that Hitchcock should have won a Best Director Oscar for his work on Family Plot?”
Hammond noted that “if Scorsese loses the DGA Best Director award this Saturday to Eastwood, all bets are off.”
He agreed that “it’s always an uphill climb for a smaller movie like Million Dollar Baby or Sideways to go up against a big juggernaut movie like The Aviator, especially with this morning’s bandwagon effect and all.”
However, he said, there are factors favoring the Eastwood film.
#1: “There has never been a movie about Hollywood that has won the Best Picture Oscar.”
#2: “I was there at the Producers Guild Awards ceremony last weekend when The Aviator won for Best Picture, and the enthusiasm factor was very low…very little applause…the level of enthusiasm isn’t there and yet it’s the kind of movie that people expect should be a Best Picture nominee.

#3: “The fact that Clint got nominated by the actor’s branch for Best Actor this morning is indicative of big support for the film by the actor’s branch, which of course is the largest.
#4: “A lot of The Aviator‘s nominations were technical ones. Baby
doesn’t have costume design, and there’s not much to get into production design-wise when you just have a boxing ring and a gym.”
#5: “People vote for movies they love…that they can get excited about…and the fact is that admiration and enthusiasm levels seem to be much higher for Million Dollar Baby than for The Aviator. People admire The Aviator but they don’t love it.
Hammond says “it’s basically a three-way race between Baby, The Aviator and Sideways. Five nominations for Sideways is a typical slot for that kind of small film…it’s very tough for a dark-horse comedy to pull off a win.”

Special Congrats to…

Catalina Sandino Moreno for nabbing a Best Actress nomination for Maria Full of
. She won’t win (Hilary Swank is a near-lock) but this is a great score for an actress who’s relatively new to this country, and who deserves to be in more films of Maria‘s calibre. She’s been holding off on committing to the next film — here’s hoping the right one comes along soon.

More Visual Push

The Dying Gaul writer-director Craig Lucas in ground-floor atrium of Sundance Film Festival headqarters at one of three Marriott hotels (don’t ask me to give the exact designation) — Monday, 1.24.05, 2:10 pm.

The backside of Baker-Winokur-Ryder publicist Chris Libby (reddish-orange bag slung over left shoulder) as he decides which journalists to hand out complimentary tickets to in parking lot/congregating area of Park City’s Racquet Club — Sunday, 1.23.05, 3:35 pm.

The Squid and the Whale director-writer Noah Baumbach during post-screening q & a at Park City’s Racquet Club after debut showing of his film — 1.24.05, 7:10 pm.

The Strangers With Candy gang on Main Street (l. to r.): co-writer and director Paul Dinello, co-stars & co-writers Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert, and some guy who’s probably had something significant to do with the making or selling of the film but I don’t know his name. (Publicist Jeff Hill informed me and I wrote it down, but it disappeared when the computer crashed without warning on Tuesday afternoon, wiping out over three hours of painstaking work in the blink of an eye) — Monday, 1.24.05, 3:35 pm.

Jeff Feuerzeig, director of The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a documentary that David Poland is calling the “masterpiece” of this year’s festival (whoa…be very careful whenever a critic uses the word “masterpiece”) — Monday, 1.24.05, 8:25 am.

Cronicas director of photography Enrique Chediak, star John Leguizamo, director-writer Sebastian Cordero at Palm Pictures’ party at Riverhorse Cafe — Monday, 1.24.05, 10:25 pm.

Legendary, much-admired German helmer Werner Herzog prior to screening of his latest film, Grizzly Man, at Holiday Village Cinemas — Monday, 1.24.05, 8:25 pm.

The Squid and the Whale costars Jeff Daniels and Owen Kline (son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates), director-writer Noah Baumbach (r.) during post-screening q & a — Monday, 1.24.05, 7:05 pm.

Actress Eddie Daniels (Open House, Ken Park) on the Riverhorse dance floor at Cronicas party — Monday, 1.24,05, 11:05 pm.

Blue Tuesday

“I can understand your feelings about a possible win for The Aviator or Marty Scorsese. But I was wondering about your thoughts on the nomination of Finding Neverland and Depp. I know there seems to be positive critical reactions to this movie, but I found its sentimental manipulation to be off-the-charts.
“I found myself returning, over and over, throughout the overlong third act, to the most compelling question presented by the film: is Johnny Depp’s eyeliner permanent, since it seems to be the same stuff he had on in Pirates?
“Contributing to the oppressive schmaltz factor was Winslet, whom I usually love… but watching her torture her kids for two hours by telling them nothing’s wrong with mommy, then coughing up her lungs made me again return to the central enigma of Depp’s perfectly lined eyes.
“As for Giamatti, I had to laugh when I read your comments that Academy members don’t relate to a lonely pudgy loser who drinks too much wine at the wrong moments, although critics obviously feel differently. My first thought was that you might be implying that critics identify with Giamatti because they often include many pudgy, over-imbibing loser types. I have never met a critic (a respected film-focused one, I mean) and since you have, I was wondering if this is so?” — Zoey.
Wells to Zoey: Some critics have that pudgy, mopey, vaguely boozy thing going, but only a few. Some, like myself, have that perfectly toned, gleaming-white-teeth, Hawaiian tan, square-jawed thing, and yeah, I suppose most critics enjoy the occasional glass of vino, and some of them have morose outlooks on life. So yeah, I guess that accounts for some of them liking Giamatti’s Sideways performance.
“It`s too scary to contemplate to see an average piece like The Aviator win for Best Picture. I may not even see the 2.27 Oscar show just for that very fact, and I haven’t missed it since I was a little toddler. I don`t know if it`s because they`ve lost touch with reality but I just don`t get these guys anymore — every year it gets worse and worse.
The Aviator, a biopic about this man that has neurosis and gets deeper into dementia, was far inferior to the vaguely-similar Nixon or even smaller pictures such as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Auto Focus. Scorsese didn’t show us a Howard Hughes we hadn`t seen before in many other flicks — it was all dysfunctional clich√ɬØ√Ǭø√ǬΩs. I still think there`s a great Howard Hughes movie to be done out there, but the once-great Scorsese couldn’t swing it.
“How hard can it be to do a fascinating Howard Hughes film? Everything is there! There’s so much to him that it doesn’t even have to do be cartoonish like Scorsese provided, with a boyish guy with a wimpy voice who seemed to be just getting out of puberty. It’s also ironic that the producer is Mr. Overrated himself, Michael Mann, who did that dreadful other biopic about Muhammad Ali, which was a total bore and didn’t reveal anything new about the man. In both cases there was no joy, which is strange because I’ll bet the real Ali and Hughes had a total blast.
“I haven’t even seen Sideways and Million Dollar Baby since they haven’t come here in this part of the world. And I didn’t feel like going to see Ray. The best I’ve seen this year are Dogville( the first complete Trier film), Fahrenheit 9/11, The Passion of the Christ, A Very Long Engagement and The Bourne Supremacy. These movies made me jump out of my body and realize this is what moviegoing should be.
“And because of that what the Academy has done over the years, promoting frivolous minor movies that may or may not be quality, has been criminal.
“See ya at the red carpet…not!” — S√ɬØ√Ǭø√ǬΩbastien Lecours, Quebec, Ontario.