The Goonies

It’s time once again to respond to the salutations of those New York secular know-nothings, the National Board of Review…even though they make calls every so often that I agree with. Like this morning’s decision to give their Best Director award to Collateral‘s Michael Mann…yes!
The NBR announced their 2004 movie awards around 11 am this morning (12.1), and will hand them out at their usual Tavern on the Green ceremony on 1.11.05.

I think giving the Best Picture prize to Finding Neverland is from the Planet Neptune. Marc Forster’s moderately-appealing period drama has a sweetly touching finale in which a dying Kate Winslet delights to a private living-room performance of James Barrie’s Peter Pan…fine. But celebrating a piece of chaste Victorian period whimsy over Sideways, Million Dollar Baby, Collateral, Kinsey, et. al.??
I’m not saying the NBR membership should consider medication, but it strikes me as a queer call.
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The NBR Awards are first out of the gate…that’s all they are. People talk about them for a day or so and then they’re forgotten until the following year. Still, that said, they can sometimes portend what other award-givers might be kicking around in the heads.
Does it mean anything that this group of middle-aged Manhattan oddballs completely ignored The Phantom of the Opera? It’s supposed to be an Oscar favorite, and it didn’t make their Top Ten list. I’ve been saying that Phantom should play well with the Academy squares and blue-hairs (I know it’s playing fairly decently with this crowd, having talked to a few of them), and probably end up with a Best Picture nomination. It could still happen, I suppose.
Jamie Foxx (who was at Tuesday night’s Michael Mann party at North with his head pretty much shaved for his role in Sam Mendes’ Jarhead) won Best Actor for Ray — deserved and no surprise. Annette Bening won Best Actress for Being Julia…the fact that the film isn’t grade-A obviously isn’t bothering the NPR any more than it’s bothering people out here.

It may not mean much in the greater scheme, but I’m still delighted that Sideways ‘ Thomas Hayden Church won for Best Supporting Actor and Kinsey ‘s Laura Linney won for Best Supporting Actress.
Alejandro Amenabar’s The Sea Inside was given their Best Foreign Film award…good call. Xan Cassevetes’ Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession should have won their Best Documentary Award, but it came in second to Born Into Brothels.
The NBR’s Breakthrough Performance Actor trophy went to Topher Grace for his work in P.S. and In Good Company…fine. The Breakthrough Performance Actress award went to Phantom‘s Emmy Rossum.
Michael Mann winning their Best Director may conceivably tip things a bit in his favor as far as being named a Best Director nominee by the Directors Guild. If this happens, his Oscar chances will significantly increase.
Congrats to Sideways‘Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for winning the best Adapated Screenplay award, and to Charlie Kaufman for taking the Best Original Screenplay award for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Mann of Honor

I’ve been writing about Michael Mann’s films and having the occasional random chat with the guy since the mid `90s Heat days, but I’ve never sat down with him and gotten into this or that topic to any degree, much less listened or considered his brain transmissions firsthand.
Well, I’ve now done this in a manner of speaking, having listened to Mann converse with 21 Grams director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu in front of an audience at the Writers Guild theatre late last night (11 pm to midnight), and then take questions from the audience.
And I came away with an impression that’s never quite penetrated over the last eight or nine years: The guy is a friggin’ celestial physicist. He’s Albert Einstein, and all this time I had him pegged as Robert Oppenheimer or maybe Werner von Braun.

Collateral star Jamie Foxx, director Michael Mann at Tuesday night’s party at North (photo: John Kopaloff)

The stuff that Mann said last night to Innaritu and various audience members showed he’s got a massive and beautifully ordered data base in his head that can address and finesse every emotional and technical aspect of filmmaking under the sun or moon. It was also clear that he expresses himself in a laid-back, confident, needle-precise fashion that draws on what sounded to me like a Rennaissance Man rich-guy beatnik sensibility.
I was going to quote all the stuff he said last night, but I’d rather just report that Mann used the word “logarithms” twice.
The case that he’s a superb filmmaker has, of course, been made several times over. Since Mann’s latest film, Collateral opened last August, I’ve been making the case that it’s easily one of the best films of the year, and that Mann deserves a Best Director nomination for it. He really, really does, and not just because it’s so precisely and immaculately composed, but it tells a great story, and because a profound emotional chord is struck between the two main characters, hit-man Vincent (Tom Cruise) and cab-driver Max (Jamie Foxx).
In describing Stuart Beatty’s “beautifully harmonic” screenplay last night, Mann said that “everything these two characters have been all their lives is collapsed into one night, and this one night is a crucible.”
I’ve always seen Collateral as a movie about redemption — about waking up and being saved.
I recognize that a lot of people aren’t on the same page. They see it as a quality genre piece…but they’ve put it into a box with a label that says, “Good but no Oscar cigar because it’s a wham-bam urban thriller.”
And it may be Mann’s fate that he’ll be more richly appreciated in 20 or 30 years time, and that in his lifetime Oscar glory will be out of reach, partly because his movies don’t make staggering amounts of money (although they usually do pretty well) and partly because his films are laws unto themselves in certain ways, and because they don’t traffic in brand-name emotion.

But they do make you feel things. Profoundly. They always have. Is anyone going to try and tell me that the trials that Al Pacino’s Lowell Bergman and Russell Crowe’s Jeffrey Wigand go through in The Insider don’t generate serious emotion? Or that Detective Vincent Hanna (Pacino again) holding the hand of the dying Neil Macauley (Robert De Niro) on the LAX airstrip at the conclusion of Heat wasn’t a deeply touching thing?
I’m more moved when emotion leaks out of some hard-guy type, almost of its own will, rather than emotion gushing out of some teary-faced girl in her 20s who’s in touch with her feelings. And I’m definitely more affected when the seeds of the hard-guy emotion are planted early and carefully nourished, and brought out by excellent acting, which is always the case in any Michael Mann film.
David Denby recognized this in his 8.9.05 New Yorker review: “The plot of Collateral is just a movieish contrivance, and the violence no more than thuggishly casual and chic — that is, very enjoyable. But Collateral picks up some genuine weight as this odd couple carry on their weird, terse dialogue. After a while, Vincent takes on a small measure of Max’s gentleness, and Max, passive and dreamy by nature, learns to seize the moment.”
Denby said in the same piece that “shot by shot, scene by scene, Michael Mann may be the best director in Hollywood.
“Methodical and precise, he’s become a master builder of sequences, the opposite of the contemporary action directors who produce a brutally meaningless whirl of movement,” Denby continued. “He analyzes a scene into minute components — a door closing, an arm thrust out — and gathers the fragments into seamless units; he wants you to live inside the physical event, not just experience the sensation of it.”
There are those, of course, who will never get this, and can only see things in terms of practical industry politics.
I was speaking to a veteran Academy member about Mann’s being in the running for a Best Director nomination, and he said, “People respect him and admire him, but I don’t think it’s going to sell.”

Mann, Foxx, Collateral screenwriter Stuart Beattie at North (photo: John Kopaloff)

I’ve always thought that opinions about a person’s personality or the way they handle the day-to-day has no place in a process that’s supposed to be about applauding artistry, but people always bring it up regardless. And so my friend carped that Mann “doesn’t know from financial restraint, he never has…and he’s got an ego bigger than the Empire State…and the only one who made any money on this film is Tom Cruise. His check is bigger than the money DreamWorks will make off the whole thing.”
I guess he means that other world-class artists are known for being conservative when it comes to spending what it takes to make their creations as good as they can be, and are also known for adopting shoulder-shrugging, comme ci comme ca `tudes when it comes to making creative choices.
If Mann’s Best Director nomination happens, it’ll happen as a bounce-off if and when he gets nominated by the Directors Guild for their own awards presentation. No DGA nom, no Oscar nom — it’s that simple.
I’d like to say that his being named Best Director by the National Board of Review means something, but I don’t think really think so. Those people are just too weird.

Raison d’etre

Much obliged to L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein for plugging me (but not, for some reason, the column by name) in Tuesday’s “Calendar” piece about how Hollywood industry bloggers are influencing the buzz about Oscar nominations.
I hate being thought of as a blogger — I’m a journo with print credits stretching back a ways, and Hollywood Elsewhere is, like, a website. All right, WIRED is a bloggy-type thing but it’s only one of many components.

Goldstein’s motive in writing the piece seems to be…well, it might be a feeling of pique about Hollywood Elsewhere, David Poland’s Movie City News, Roger Freidman’s Fox 411 and Tom O’Neill’s Oscar getting into screenings early here and there and, now and then, expressing views about the Oscar worthiness of this or that new film.
Whatever the value of this game, it’s one that a plugged-in print journalist laboring under the mandate of having to write weekly issue- and reporting-driven columns can’t play, although Goldstein did play it when he mentioned in Tuesday’s column that he’d seen James L. Brooks’ Spanglish and that he thinks it’s an Oscar contender.
Of course, Goldstein gets into many more early-bird screenings than I do. He’s always among the first to see anything.
Bottom line: web revenues are climbing, the internet economy is bouncing back, the internet is obviously faster than print (unless you’re unable to write as quickly as you ought to and sometimes have difficulty making your deadlines, like me), and this whole Hollywood blogger stand-out thing makes the Times seem a step or two behind. You know….slower.

Prick Up Your Ears

After Wednesday’s column wrapped 8 or 9 hours later than it was supposed to, I did some cleaning, watched some TV, stumbled over to a pizza parlor and forgot to do the sound clips. Why put up new ones now if they’re only going to be up until tomorrow morning, when the next column appears? I know this makes me sound like a slacker, but I think I’ll just wait and post fresh clips tomorrow.

What Men Want

Radio shock-jock Tom Leykis doesn’t intend irony when he implores his male listeners to “drop that bitch.” He means it, although the thing he’s most sincere about is wanting to expand his audience and rake in as much money as possible. As he has said many times, Likus is definitely in it for the scratch.
It follows that Likus wouldn’t have ever chanted “drop that bitch” on his show if he didn’t think it would help accomplish his goals. He’s got all kinds of market researchers telling him if this or that line is playing or not. He’s not guessing.
The obvious reason Likus has voiced this charming slogan is because there are hundreds of thousands of unhappy, spiritually moribund husbands and boyfriends out there (many of whom, no argument, may be absolute assholes) who’d like nothing more than to tell their significant others where to go and fly the coop and find some hot new fantasy girlfriend…but they don’t because they’re wimps, or because they’re trying to feel hopeful about things and don’t want to give up. Or because they’ve got kids and mortgages and can’t see a way out.

Or, like too many of us, they’re simply terrified of giving up the routine, and so they do their best and haul themselves down to the offices of marriage counselors in the evenings and maybe have tacky little affairs on the side and hold tight to the status quo.
I’m saying this because I strongly suspect that the nation of guys nursing the occasional fantasy of telling their wives to shove it…and let me first say I think this amounts to a majority, because all guys are at least somewhat frustrated in their live-in relationships (what woman isn’t?) and at least think about tomcatting around because they’re basically dogs…yeah, I just straddled species, and this isn’t even a sentence.
These guys do not go to the movies to see the dull horror of their domestic lives replayed on the big screen. They want movies to tell stories that dream about something other than the whisker shavings in their bathroom sink. A movie that thinks about getting out in some way, or at least tries to instruct in ways they might lead these guys to feel things more positively or more deeply, and perhaps as a result feel better about themselves.
I`m saying, finally, that it’s hard to imagine a vaguely unhappy male taking pleasure from a movie about a nice-guy husband with a good job whose domestic life is clouded by his neurotic bitch of a wife…a woman who is seemingly doing damage to her children on some level…a woman who’s admitted to having an extramarital affair…a woman who has her good points and saving graces, but is mainly a guarantee of domestic hell and…jeez, another run-on sentence.
Let’s start again: I can’t see vaguely unhappy guys going nuts over a movie about a nice-guy husband starting to fall for someone else, and that woman being sexy and vulnerable and sincere of heart, and the nice-guy husband thinking about going off with this new girl, but finally abandoning her and turning around and returning to the self-loathing bitch because he can’t bring himself to leave the fort, and then terror-wife saying at the finish, “I’m glad you’re back.”

If a woman is for the most part a negative-minded harridan with low self-esteem issues and given to seeing life as a series of anxious, teeth-gritting rituals, she’s not going to wake up one morning like Ebenezer Scrooge and become someone else. So if you go back to her, you’re saying to yourself, “I need more hell. I’m not unhappy enough.”
I could possibly see going for a story like this if the terror-wife had an alcohol problem, let’s say, and the nice-guy husband feels he has to go back because she’s said she realizes she has to go into the program and he wants to help her succeed. That’s a decent, noble thing to do. But to blow off a seemingly wonderful new rrelationship with a seemingly balanced and wholesome woman to return to a neurotic hell-pig who will give you a shock of gray hair and re-order your life according to Edgar Allan Poe and drive you into the pit?
This sounds about as emotionally appealing as the final 15 minutes of Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood. A better analogy, come to think, is that last bit in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious when those Nazi conspirators call out to Claude Rains, who’s just outside the front door of a large mansion, and say, “Alex…will you come in, please? We’d like to talk to you.”
This ramble has a point, but because I haven’t seen the movie that inspired it (although some have) I’m just going to let it go and wait for a screening and hope for the best. I’m just saying life is short and housemates with toxic personalities are worth their weight in strychnine and who needs it?

Xmas Stuffing

“I just got an e-mail from the publicist promoting The Aviator, which screens in nearby St. Louis tomorrow, saying it’s now moved to Christmas Day. Did you hear anything of this? Doesn’t that seem unwise?
Instead of having only one older moviegoers’ draw to compete with on Dec. 17 (i.e., Spanglish), now The Aviator will have Meet the Fockers (more or less, having opened only three days before), The Life Aquatic, Phantom of the Opera and, I would argue, Flight of the Phoenix — a movie about plane-flying characters that looks more adrenalized. Christmas Day is going to be crazy now.” —
Nick Rogers
, A&E Editor, The State-Journal Register.