Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Thanks for Following Me to Another Website

Whoops! I FORGOT to include the Link in my Facebook Post! Silly Me.

My actual first Essay in almost Two Years will appear in this Blog on Saturday, October 31st between 10:0am and Noon.

I hope you to take a moment to read it during this very busy Halloween weekend.


(If you are reading any post from before today, I do not take responsibility for anything that I might have said in the past, as I am not the same person today, as I was a month ago, much less a year ago, much less 5, or even 10. I think some of them are still 'pretty good reads' though, even if the pages smell like mildew)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Something for Everyone: Oscars 2014

And you thought, I forgot. Just sliding in by a hair (or is it a hare? going back to that race between a turtle and a rabbit), here are my predictions for tonight's Academy Awards, made extra special by a celebration of The Wizard of Oz's 75th Anniversary, complete with appearance by Judy's three adult children, Lorna Luft, Joey Luft, and the indomitable (not dead!) Liza Minnelli.

Best Picture

This is really a 3 way race between Gravity, American Hustle, and 12 Years a Slave. Captain Phillips and Her are longshots given their lead actors failed to secure Best Actor nominations, while Philomena and Nebraska may be too indie to gather a strong enough contingent of Academy voters (Nebraska was one of my favorite films of the year and should find its audience not in the indie cinemas of the metropolis, but in the hearts of anyone who has lived a rural existence - aka Mom and Dad please rent this when it comes out). Wolf of Wallstreet received too many mixed reviews, though Dalllas Buyers Club could sneak away with the statue, especially should Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey win in their respective categories. As usual, the heir-apparent to this award will be more apparent as the evening unravels. If Gravity sweeps the technical categories, the momentum could be on its side, though if American Hustle manages to take statues in all 4 acting categories it could look near invincible. And what about 12 Years a Slave? Perhaps the most important film of this year, the most gut wrenching, and I suspect the film that shall be remembered and shown in classrooms ranging from Film Studies to American History to African-American Studies for years. For 12 Years, the tone may set at the start of the ceremony with Best Supporting Actress category. Should Lupita knock out Jennifer Lawrence, it could give the film momentum to go all the way. In all likelihood, American Hustle has a chance of two, maybe three of the acting Oscars (Cooper's curls could trump Leto's rouge, plus he is a former nominee). More than a tale of winners and losers, this year's collection of nominees are all fantastic and worth a viewing. The Times has Gravity taking Best Director, with 12 Years sneaking away with Best Picture. However, I feel like gambling this year, and would love to see Dallas Buyers Club walk away with prize.

Best Actor

A category without one time favorites Tom Hanks and Robert Redford, Matthew McConaughey has this on lock, though he could be pushed out by 12 Years a Slave's Chiwetel Ejiofor. McConaughey physical transformation, not to mention his metamorphosis from dumb, pretty leading man to indie movie creeper (Paperboy, Killer Joe), has earned him wide praise from everyone in the industry and this viewer especially. If Joaquin Phoenix were on better behavior or drank the Kool-Aid that is Awards Season Promotion, he could have walked away with this prize for his touching appearance Her, this category's equivalent of Sandra Bullock in Gravity (he is onscreen throughout and his only scene partner, an unseen Scarlett Johansen). Alas Leo, like poor Amy Adams, will have to wait for a better received movie and another year to get his Oscar, something he has been chasing since The Basketball Diaries and Who's Eating Gilbert Grape? And then there's Bruce Dern. giving a lovely performance in Nebraska, a film no one seemed to watch. Restrained and internalized, it is lovely to watch, but will beat out by the HIV positive, drugged up, rodeo clown McConnaughey conjures in Dallas Buyers Club.

Best Actress

For my dollar, Cate Blanchett has this one in the bag. Sure, she already has one. But that was in the Supporting category in a somwhat (forgive me) forgettable movie playing a movie star who won 4 Academy awards herself. Isn't it time Ms. Blanchett earned something with her own stamp upon it? Not to mention she is brilliant, volatile and unstable, like a Blanche (which she recently played to great acclaim) let loose from the sanitorium, yet at times clear and exacting as any 5th avenue matriarch. This is not to say she is without competion. Meryl Streep, the seemingly omni-present nominee, eats up the movie meant to contain her, August:Osage County, yet for all her tumbles, outbursts, and cancer bob, she fails to incite the true terror and desperation in the on-screen Violet I saw in 2005 (played by the indispensable, theatre master Estelle Parsons, returning to Broadway this spring in a limited run). Streep's performance captures the acid and wit of Violet, but fails to capture the fast paced driver with no clear trajectory conjured by Ms. Parsons (to see her rush down the stairs, full speed, then immediately halt, pilled out, at the bottom step, proved terrifying in its own subtle way. How many grandparents/parents/friends do we have who seem to be driving with no headlights - or no driver?). Given Streep just won for The Iron Lady, this is an almost arbitryary, though fully earned, nomination. Judi Dench managed to strike a chord as Philomena, the title character of the film by the same name, on the hunt for a son she once gave up. While her performance is comendable, it lacks some of the fireworks seen in other nominees (especially Streep and Blanchett), and thus make for a heartening but not gut wrenching performance (I much preferred her in Notes on a Scandal). Perhaps Dench should take great pride in the fact that her film proved to not only be a star vehicle for her, but a legitimate Best Picture nominee (of which Blue Jasmine and August: Osage County were not). On other hand, Sandra Bullock manages to carry her entire picture, literally defying gravity or a need for a male lead/co-star (George Clooney only accounts for about 1/3 third of the movie). Bullock channels the best of herself in this film (completely self-aware as in Miss Congeniality or The Heat, independently strong willed as in Blind SideCongeniality, and The Heat, brittle and avoiding her emotions (Crash), not to mention summoning her early career action flicks (Speed 2, Congenialty). Despite this combination of all her skills 1) she just won a few years ago and 2) her only scene partner for most of the film is herself. Oscar voters tend to enjoy their actresses to have a strong connection (standoff) with their costars a la Silver Linings PlaybookMonster's BallThe ReaderThe Blind Side, and Erin Brockovich. Though if the Academy turns to its The Hours or even The Iron Lady days, Ms. Bullock could find herself the surprise winner on Oscar day. Alas, Amy Adams. Sweet, adorable, talented, dedicated, acclaimed Amy Adams. After years of lingering in the Best Supporting Category, Adams has finally graduated to the Leads. Despite her Golden Globe win, I fear she will remain always a nominee never a winner (a modern Glenn Close or for many years Kate Winslet). At least this year. While her costumes are by far the most striking throughout the film and use of accents and disguise put to great use, she is not the true star of American Hustle. Not to mention, the Academy gave the Lead Actress to a David O. Russell muse just last year, Silver Linings Playbook's Jennifer Lawrence. However, if the Academy should really get in a conundrum about Woody Allen's bizarre (and possibly criminal) parenthood, the Academy could turn its attention to a deserving darling next in line for Oscar gold. In the end, my money is on the great Cate Blanchett, a woman who has earned rave reviews in limited theatre runs of A Streetcar Named Desire and Uncle Vanya, with a possible steal by Amy Adams. The only real major snub in this category was Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks. Her work superb, she seemed to be appearing in a different movie than everyone else, one much darker, deeper, and less Disneyfied.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Like his Dallas Buyers brethren McConaughey, Jared Leto has this one in the bag, in this a case a shimmery handbag, as he gracefully embodied party-transgirl Rayon. Jonah Hill largely (no pun intended) repeats his loveable schitck, but an ward-winning performance it is not. Bradley Cooper's curls are adorable and his acting is actually quite good, but he too will be put on the wait list, along with Amy Adams and Leonardo DiCaprio. Glenn Close has been there for years. Michael Fassbender's adamant dismissal of the Awards race, after a snub from his performance in Shame, will get him no votes this year, and while Barkhad Abdi is this year's newcomer along with Lupita N'yongo, they both will take promising careers away from tonight's ceremony, but sadly no hardware.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Jennifer Lawrence scored a surprise win in this category at the Golden Globe awards and for many is the front runner. This is the tightest race of the year, and while I would love to see Lupita N'yongo take the award for 12 Years, or better, my favorite, June Squibb from Nebraska, the Academy will crown Lawrence with her second Academy Award (despite some spotty and inconsistent dialect work), this generations own Jane Fonda.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sochi, So Much

I don't know about you, but I am having trouble connecting with this 2014 Winter Olympics Games. For starters, it's the Winter Olympics, a mix of sports that I have rarely seen and even more rarely participated in (Skiing? A mini-breakdown a la 2004 in comparison to 2012's zip line fiasco - yikes). Plus, there is all that snow. Considering the snow, the conditions, the situation and the months (miss you Ben, Rita, Granny, and Jessica), I am just not up for much winter fun. In fact, driving along snow clotted roads in subzero temperatures, Winter Fun seems a cruel jock or an impossible dream. Where is spring? Where is life?

Then there are the human rights issues, specific to these games, the gay rights involved in the whole matter. How can the whole world unite for a time of apparent peace, equality, and fellowship, when its populations's queers are pushed to the margins or encouraged to not participate (tragically, brutally encouraged to no longer live by some). It would be one thing if Russia seemed unaccustomed to its gay cousins, like an elderly grandmother chuckling about men she once knew who were 'light in the loafers,' rather than clearly against them, like a Nazi regime despising its Semitic roots. How can I support such superstars as Maria Sharapova, a female tennis star and almost by default a gay icon, embracing Sochi as home without addressing the anti-gay messages sent by its capitol. Maria, do you think many of your hetero fans give a hoot about your candy project, Sugar-pova?

Am I simply unpatriotic or uninterested? To be honest, I don't care how anyone performs on their blades, boards or luges, and a considerable part of me hopes to watch usually underrepresented countries like Iceland, Norway, Greenland, even Canada dominate this Olympics as opposed to the American deluge usually experienced in the summer olympics (best believe I still rooting for the Williams' sisters in singles and doubles come 2016). The winter olympics most interesting star, Johnny Weir has been excluded in part because of his desire to work outside the sport, but also the very evident distaste for gays in the Sochi air. Where are the Tara Lipinskis, Nancy Kerrigans, Tanya Hardings, and Brian Boitanos? Surya Bonaly and her illegal backflips, a Josephine Baker (or possibly more accurate Grace Jones) on ice?

To add fire or confusion (you decide) to the matter, I currently do not have cable television. Instead, my viewing pleasures consist of what I can find on Netflix and Hulu. This puts me slightly removed from popular culture and What Is Happening This Minute, but at the same time, if it has anything to do with Kimye, baby Northwest, Teen Mom, The Bachelor, or Joe Boehner's tan I am not interested.

A Winter Olympics I'd like to see? The pot holes filled on Washington Street. Sidewalks shoveled and cleaned so pedestrians don't have to dangerously wander into oncoming traffic. Donations of warm clothing and food to the needy. An increase in the availability of Bourbon at any given hour as it proves the only remedy for the cold temps.

It's highly unlikely I should find myself viewing much of these Olympics unless I should find myself at a bar or friend's house broadcasting the breakdown. And while I commend the athletes, the true meaning of sportsmanship, and the coming together of nations, no energy will be spent on my part watching nor celebrating these Olympics.

Instead, let us devout that viewers' energy to discourses on our cities and towns, to human rights, to getting along, to understanding and celebrating (not tolerating - I hate that term) each other and our differences, and most importantly to driving safely on these shitty snowy roads! Am I being cold? Tise the Season.

Friday, February 22, 2013

I Love the Movies: Argo-Gonna-Get-It

I love the movies. Perhaps to an excess. Countless nights are spent in front of my computer streaming movies of all genres, quietly enjoying the magic of moviemaking (and the comfort of sweatpants and robe). Add to that the number of times I have gone to the movies by myself, delightfully undistracted by friends and oftentimes by any other moviegoers altogether (such an occurrence happened yesterday: in an attempt to finish my Oscar viewing I sat through Life of Pi with exactly one other audience member, while at Argo I was able to enjoy a private screening - free to guffaw and yell back at the screen as I wished). So, maybe I have a movie problem. Some would call it passion. Some would call a waste of money (to the austere of mind I rarely get popcorn and always bring my own beverage). But, when it all is said is done, I love the movies, always have, and there is no time I enjoy more than Oscar season. This year has been one of the more interesting races, with several potential favorites, snubs, twists and turns along the route of precursor words, and some would-be record breakers (I'm looking at you Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild). Here are my predictions and analysis of this year's Oscar race.

Best Picture
Thought Lincoln seemed the unbeatable critics' pick early on, Argo has drawn a second breath while Lincoln's pace as slowed, giving Argo the slight edge in this race. Other potential contenders are Silver Linings Playbooks with its ubiquitousness in the acting categories, not to mention producer Harvey Weinstein's aggressive campaigning for what has proved the gem in his crown of films this year. With eleven nominations, Life of Pi would seem a strong contender, but without any nominations in the acting categories, it has a tough road to travel. Django Unchained proved to be too steamy for Academy voters, a common reaction to its director-auteur Quentin Tarantino. That, and the fact that Tarantino was not only liberal with his of blood and nudity in this movie, but that ever troubling N-word, something white Hollywood voters are hesitant to embrace, celebrate, even mutter. In my opinion, Les Misérables was an incredibly long, decadent production, that remained on one single note from start to finish. Zero Dark Thirty had too many critics, both from the film industry and the White House itself. A good film no doubt, Kathryn Bigelow scored her big win a few years ago with The Hurt Locker and can count her inclusion in this year's awards (five nominations in all) as her arrival as an outside-insider, much like her colleague Tarantino. Beasts of the Southern Wild, that little film that could, was possibly my favorite out of the whole bunch (in part, I am sure, because of my affinity for Louisiana and fried gator), but has little chance of picking up any awards on Oscar night. After poor performances at most of the pre-Oscar awards and its long forgotten early release, perhaps it's the journey that has mattered more than the destination for this charming little film. Which leaves me with Amour, a little seen foreign film that has managed to pull itself out of the margins of minor categories and compete with the big boys (it also has nominations in the screenplay, directing, and acting categories). Almost guaranteed to win Best Foreign Picture, Amour could perform "an outside smoke," and go five-for-five, honoring the contribution of French New Wave cinema to today's Hollywood and scoring one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. With the shocking exclusion of Bigelow, Tarantino, and Affleck from the directing category, this year's awards are a bit of a toss up, but I'm putting my money on Argo. CIA intelligentsia mixed with Hollywood schmaltz, the redemption of Gigli star Affleck, and perhaps its best secret weapon, John Goodman (see last year's The Artist), Argo will snag the top award on Sunday.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Not much can be said to argue the likelihood of Daniel Day-Lewis taking this award for an unprecedented third time, unless Silver Linings pulls off an historic four-for-four in the acting categories or the Academy decides to reward the singing and dancing of its former host Hugh Jackman. Sorry boys, he drank your milkshake in There Will Be Blood, and he is going to win your Oscar on Sunday night. Rather, I'd like to discuss the inclusion (or rather exclusion) of some of the other nominees. Jackman and Cooper both deserve their nominations, a first for both men, helping them both leap from theatre geeks turned action heroes and Hollywood heartthrobs, to actors of reputable gravitas. I didn't see The Master (and I think many others did either), but this supposedly great film could have potentially made it into the Best Picture category had its release and marketing been better managed. Joaquin Phoenix can count his nomination as a great victory, a return to his once-high standing as a promising actor, that seemed to give Mr. Phoenix the ghost for a few years (see that terrible beard and that terrible documentary he made/grew). Which leaves me with Denzel Washington. Ahh, Denzel. Everybody loves Denzel. I hate Denzel. I really do. In my scathing eyes, he comes off as an self-righteous prick, and apparently when he plays one, he receives an Oscar nom (see Flight and Training Day). (Rumors in the theatre circle swirl about his ride and contemptuous conduct during the sold-out runs of both Julius Caesar and Fences.) Now to be fair, I did not catch Flight when it was in theaters, but is it not the same-old Denzel routine? Any other years, Ben Affleck would have made it into this category, but his performance too muted and reactionary compared with the overstuffed cast of Hollywood hacks he had to compete with (Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Phillip Baker Hall, just to name a few). Rather, I would have liked to see John Hawkes's touching performance as a horny man with polio in The Sessions make it into the pack (as it did at the Globes and the SAG awards). And what about Jamie Foxx? He received little attention for his performance in Django Unchained, a brave choice of a role. Dare I suggest that there is only room for one black man in the Best Actor category, and when he is available it is always Denzel? That may be too simple of an estimation, but Mr. Foxx's work was far from poor. Nevertheless, no one will be talking about anyone but Daniel Day-Lewis Oscar Sunday.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

A tough one to call. It's possible that any of these five women could take the top prize, though Naomi Watts stands the slimmest chance, her film ill-reviewed and a box-office bust, it failed to score in a nomination in any other category. Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence are have been the front-runners so far, and I imagine to these young ladies will meet in this category again, duking it out to be Hollywood's go-to gal (each has already received one nomination in previous years). While Lawrence has the huge box office of The Hunger Games backing her, not to mention the SAG award, Ms. Chastain could pull that rare coup of winning an Oscar and a Tony in the same year, given her outstanding reviews in the recently closed The Heiress. These young ladies took the award in their respective categories at the Golden Globes, I suspect it will be the mysteriously charming (and recent SNL host) Lawrence who takes the award this year. Not so fast though. Should Quvenzhané Wallis or Emmanuelle Riva take the award they will make history as the Academy's youngest or oldest winner, respectively. As I mentioned earlier, Amour's road to Best Picture could begin with an upset in this category. Notable snubs in this category belong to Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea, the performance of the year according to New York Magazine, if only anyone had seen it. Along that line, I found Marion Cotillard's work in Rust and Bone both breathtaking and brave, but apparently only one Frenchwoman can make it into this year's Oscar race. Helen Mirren might have made it into the race, if Hitchcock was not such a dud of a film, and Dame Maggie Smith might have made an impact had her work in Quartet and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel not been a duplicate of that which she so effortlessly produces on Downtown Abbey. In the indie circuit, Michelle Williams offered up another brave and layered performance in the little seen Take This Waltz, but too many similarities to Blue Valentine may have detracted voters. And then there is Jennifer Westfeldt. I loved Friends with Kids and thought it could have easily been a tenth nominee in the Best Picture category. Her witty dialogue, sweet, open heart, and honest portrayal of a modern New York woman could have found Ms. Westfeldt not only an honoree in this category, but also as a screenwriter and director. Perhaps the Bridesmaids buzz has worn off. While many predict Lawrence to take the award this week, I am going out on a limb (a very old and feeble one) and predicting Rive for the win. Wallis can be content to be the next Abigail Breslin.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

The other tough category. While none of the Lead Actress nominees have an Oscar already under their belt, this category is blooming with previous winners. While Christoph Waltz pulled off a surprise at the Golden Globes (where Robert De Niro was not nominated), he just received an Oscar for Inglorious Bastards not too long ago, as did fellow nominees Arkin and Seymour Hoffman. With DiCaprio not even nominated (he could have finally picked up his first Oscar), the race comes down to two elder statesmen of the acting community: Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones. While it has been nearly twenty years since Jones won his golden man, it's been an even longer drought for De Niro. In fact, it has been a decade since he has even been nominated. Despite the tears and the football hysteria he brings to his performance, I find myself favoring an award for Jones. Of course, in the grand scheme of the night, an award for either gentleman would prove a serious boost to Lincoln or Silver Linings, especially when paired with expected awards in the leading categories. By a slim margin, I think De Niro will take the award with a standing ovation, possibly being the only representative from Silver Linings to reach the podium.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Seen as one of this year's weaker categories, Anne Hathaway put this one in the bag as soon as the trailers for Les Misérables were released. While not my favorite rendition of the song (give me Patti LuPone, Elaine Page, Aretha Franklin), you have to hand it to a woman who can believably play Fantine and CatWoman in the same year, garnering the best review performance in each of those prospective films. Hathaway has been waiting a long time to capture her first Oscar, and as a former host, she has the Academy's admiration, not the mention their votes. Sally Field is two-for-two in her pervious Oscar attempts, but I think this nomination will be counted as a return to the spotlight (and hopefully better films), in the same way it will be for previous winner Helen Hunt. Alas, Amy Adams will again be forgotten, as she tallies another nomination to her resumé, but other actresses have had to wait a long time for their first win (Kate Winslet, Shirley MacLaine), and some are still waiting (Glenn oh-so-Close). Jacki Weaver's nomination seems more an accolade for Silver Linings than her individual performance; despite her solid acting, it is a surprisingly small role to receive a nomination. I would have much rather seen Nicole Kidman's slutty, steamy, messy performance in a horrible blonde wig (aka The Paperboy) receive a nomination, but critics were generally mixed in their reviews and summer releases consistently have a hard time surviving until Oscar season. Hathaway for the win, Adams for the double martini.

Best Director

What a category. With the exclusion of Tarantino, Bigelow, and Affleck (the Golden Globe winner), this category seems wide open. Though Hollywood giant Steven Spielberg lurks in these waters, I have a feeling the Academy will choose to honor another nominee, anoint a new master. Ang Lee could pick up the award for Life of Pi, but the steam seems to have vanished from that sail, not to mention he won not too long ago for Brokeback Mountain (another year where the Best Director and Best Picture trophies did not match up). While I would love to see young filmmaker Benh Zeitlin win for Beasts of the Southern Wild, he has little chance in both this and the screenwriting category. Which leaves David O. Russel for Silver Linings or Michael Haneke for Amour. Each are also nominated in the screenwriting categories, and a win here could take them all the way to the Big Prize. While Haneke will fall to Tarantino in the screenwriting category, he will pick up the Best Director trophy and Amour will make its presence felt at this year's awards. Let's tune in Sunday and find out. I'll bring the champagne, and we shall toast to another fantastic year at the movies.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Come On In, Boys

I was recently visited by the men of The Watchtower. Flouting pamphlets of Earth's demise, they approached my door. Sitting upstairs in my 'loft' apartment, I heard the doorbell ring and scurried down the stairs to greet what I thought was one of Mom's clients or the UPS guy. Imagine my surprise (and theirs) to find two well dressed men in business attire, asking to talk to me. "Well, good morning gentlemen," I said, decked out in my usual sleep ware combo: sweat pants, tank top, bandana, bath robe. I'm not sure if I had even brushed that morning. No matter, these were men at my door, asking me questions.

They began with their usual spiel, hello, we're from The Watchtower, Jehovah, Revelation, blahtidy, blah, blah. They asked me if I was familiar with their organization, and I said, "Oh, yes. I used to live in New York and have seen The Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn, just across the water. They were impressed by this. I coquettishly mentioned my love of New York and how much I miss living there. One of the gentlemen (not the cute one with the great gray tweed pants, but the less attractive one with the discolored teeth - damn you protocol!) asked if he could read something to me. I leaned and batted my eyes, expecting to hear him recite the vows he had been rehearsing for our upcoming nuptials. Without a moment of hesitation, he instead went into his well-rehearsed recitation of 1 John 2:17: "The world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever." They continued to chat about how the world is evil and it's ending and asked if they could give me one of their pamphlets. "Oh, yes, please," I replied, taking the city-disaster-scene inscribed brochure from their eyes. "What's your name?" they asked me. "Bradley," I said, gleaming from head to toe, "I hope to see you boys again."

As they drove away in their flashy silver economy car, I let out a cackle befitting an overweight sea-witch, howling like a mad dog. When my mother saw the pamphlet in my hands, she just laughed and walked away, leaving me to laugh sadistically at the unsuspecting boys I had just tortured. Returning upstairs, still cackling, I felt like Bette Davis, warning the boys it was going to be a bumpy night.

They never called back.


Their visit has stayed with me the last couple of days, not only because I framed the flyer on my bedroom wall, but because their visit had me feeling like myself again: wry, ornery, dangerous. For you see, I am back in the Broad Meadow again, the city and I needing some time apart. It has not been easy to leave my single person's life in the Big Apple and return to a small town in Indiana, living with my family in a spare room, humbled as I sort my shit out. But do not fear, for as those boys showed me, the pluck and vigor that marked my New York existence, the sticky-sweet bitchiness that I served customers for three years, still remains, perhaps even stronger, clearer than before. And don't worry, you'll be hearing from me again soon. Sorry I went away for a while. But the Bradley is back.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Iron Lady vs. The Crazy Ladies

Amid this year's Oscar buzz and heated Republican primaries, I managed to catch Meryl Streep's most recent Best Actress nominated picture, The Iron Lady. The film centers around Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first female Prime Minister, flashing between a present day, senile stricken Thatcher, and the fierce politician in her prime, The Iron Lady. Thatcher, a known and staunch conservative and fervent ally of Ronald Reagan, remains a controversial figure in present-day England. Knowing her political leanings and philosophies, one might make the quick comparison to some of the American Right's new female superstars: Sarah Palin, Christine O'Donnell, and Michele Bachman. However, that conclusion would prove unworthy of Thatcher's legacy. Now, to get things straight (as straight as I attempt to get things), I am not a politician, I did not study political science, and I am certainly not a Republican. Instead, I am a concerned citizen, a bright thinker, a feminist, and an avid movie watcher. Sitting in the theater on Sunday, I could not help but admire and somewhat sympathize with the Thatcher character, no doubt inspired by Streep's superb recreation of the British leader. Ms. Thatcher emerged from the working class to not only attend Oxford, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, but secure that country's top political office, holding it longer than anyone else in the twentieth century. This all in a country whose class system is even more powerful than that in the US (for now). For that alone, Ms. Thatcher represents a sort of feminism, placing her in the company of other Great Women like Hillary Clinton, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, and Mother Teresa. Thatcher sternly believed in her brand of fiscal conservatism, bravely combating the IRA and invigorating the military to win a successful campaign in the Falkland Islands. Thatcher's policies and persona were rooted in a deep belief in the philosophy of conservative spending, the ability of citizens to rise above their circumstances, the steadfastness of human will, and a true love of England. A friend and ally of Reagan, these two politicos were key players in the dissolution of the USSR and the bringing down of the Berlin Wall. So, why I am singing Ms. Thatcher's praises? Because I am disgusted with the anointing of the three aforementioned women to the Republican elite, or should I say their rise in the increasingly crazed Religious Right, the Tea Party (in gay culture, a T party is something very, very different). Let's just say Ms. Thatcher never had to release a commercial reminding voters that she was indeed, "not a witch" (a bitch, possibly). She certainly had more important matters on hand and heart than defending herself against name calling. While I may not agree with the policies and practices of Condoleezza Rice, I am not including her in this trio of atrocity, because at the end of the day she is a smart, educated, philosophical woman who also happens to be of color, a positive image for young girls everywhere. I cannot say the same for these other women. It is a shame to feminism and women around the country that these three Tea-steeped Bimbos have come to represent women in politics. The chasm that lies between them and someone like Hillary Clinton or Gabrielle Giffords is vast and should be noted. These are three of the most dangerous women in America, because they make women look stupid, pretty pieces propped up in heels to subvert the American public misinformation. They are a weak ploy by the Republican Right to swing female (and some gay male) voters away from the more liberal Left. While Bachman managed to earn a law degree, Palin and O'Donnell barely managed B.A.'s (Palin did much better in beauty pageants, place third in the Miss Alaska contest thanks to her signaure blowing of the flute). Sarah Palin is more akin to a Kardashian sister than a politician of any gravitas. Do they not both have a reality show and a family member who appeared on Dancing with the Stars? The fact that she almost became vice-president of our country is a sham and an alarming instance of the religious fanaticism that grapples so much of our country. I am not decrying religion or dismissing its importance in human life, but the degree to which the conservative Christian Right has taken to undermine the government is appalling and should be ceased immediately. Furthermore, I have no problem with being fiscally conservative and responsible. It is my belief that these values are the basis of the Republican party. However, religious fanaticism and the need to appeal to that demographic have so engulfed the Republican Party, there seems to be no turning back. How can a woman who knows so little about American history (Bachman) be considered for the presidency of the United States? By gunning up the support (literally NRA) of the Tea Party, a group which seeks to disinherit a large group of Americans (gays, immigrants, Jews, single women, etc), while seeking a political agenda that is self-serving to their mostly white, mostly Christian, many times affluent supporters. These women (especially Palin), become powerful by the creation of their own celebrity, their own brand. After Palin and McCain lost the presidential election in 2008, Palin was near broke. Rebounding like the Grizzly Mama she is, Palin has accrued a sizable amount of personal wealth, won from speaking engagements, television spots, a reality series, and two books, all of these to do with well, her, Palin Inc., rather than political ideology, service, or philosophy (Thacherism is an established branch of conservative thinking in England, Palinism is, well, a list of the outrageous and stupid things she has said - check the Internet). Palin's increasingly powerful (and less and less viably political) celebrity is based on her catch phrases, her accent, her haircut. Palin even let herself in on the joke by appearing along Tina Fey on SNL. Sarah Palin's number one interests are Sarah Palin, Inc, not America. I'd like to say Sarah Palin is Plain Dumb, but in fact I believe that behind those atrocious glasses are a shark's eyes. A shark just like Newt Gingrich, spinning questions about his multiple marriages into an attack on a recent debate moderator and a group he has termed the "media elite." By tapping into many Americans' anger, Gingrich scored the upset in South Carolina and may overtake Romney for the Republican nomination. America, it is time we wake up, look at the facts, and start voting based on philosophy, policy, and voting records, rather than surges of charisma that exploit our emotions and play to the "elite media." Let's just say I won't be voting Republican in this election, nor placing Going Rogue on the reading list for my Women's Lit class in twenty years.

What I'm Reading: Catching Fire, Wendy and the Lost Boys

What I'm Listening to: Amy Winehouse Lioness, Jesse J "Domino"

What I'm Watching: The Iron Lady, My Week with Marilyn, Underworld: Awakening, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Young Adult, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Descendants, Midnight in Paris, Breaking Bad

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bradley Predicts the Oscars 2012

Awards season has arrived yet again, the wonderful time of year that begins just after Thanksgiving and ends mid-February, the only thing besides long underwear and cute sweaters that gets me through the abominable cold (temps in the teens were quite the unwelcome change after vacationing in the Caribbean this New Year's). With the heat and procession worthy of a Republican primary race, full of characters and color, Hollywood glitzes itself up in a glamorous parade, celebrating, what else? itself.
While this year's box office was dominated by sequels and installments (Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Chipmunks, Pirates, Hangover, etc), the independent and arts based cinema produced a myriad of pictures, evoking a wide range of styles and emotions. Many films decided to tread in waters of both sorrow and celebration, everyone seemingly afraid to laugh too hard or cry too much. Even amid the female fart fest Bridesmaids grew seeds of searching and self-doubt, some sober thought amid the shit scenes. Speaking of shit scenes, The Help mixed pathos and ethos into a heartbreaking, side-splitting hybrid better than perhaps any other film this year.
This year we saw a slew of actors seemingly pursuing MVP status, most notably Michael Fassbender (Haywire, X-Men: First Class, Shame, Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method), Jessica Chastain (Take Shelter, Coriolanus, The Help, The Debt, Tree of Life), and Ryan Gosling (Drive, The Ides of March, Crazy, Stupid, Love). While I believe Fassbender and Chastain will each emerge from awards' season with nominations but not statues, Gosling will again just miss the mark, as he did last year with Blue Valentine, leaving awards season with no statue, but a continuing array of movie deals. Perhaps it's a case of overexposure or peaking too early, a la Michelle Bachman’s rapid rise and fall (ouch). Or consider Kate Winslet a few years ago when voters were forced to split their votes between her two great performances, The Reader and Revolutionary Road, which could have easily won separate statues in consecutive years.
While I have yet to view all of this year’s fine films (an effort requiring time and resources I do not yet possess), I have seen many of them, paying close attention to the movie blogs and reviews in The New York Times, Time Out New York, Next, and New York Magazine. Below, I have listed my projected nominees, with the winners in bold. It is a list mixed with who will and who should win and a few shout outs to those that got lost along the way. For me, Oscar season is a very special pleasure. I do not watch football, fill out an NCAA bracket, or gamble. I do not bet on horses, but if I did they would have names like Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, and my newest Hollywood crush, Michael Fassbender. And here are the (my) nominees:

Best Actor:

George Clooney - The Descendants

Jean Dujardin - The Artist

Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Michael Fassbender - Shame

Brad Pitt - Moneyball

For me, this is a contest between George Clooney, the established Hollywood star, who somehow manages grow sexier and more skillful each year, and Monsieur Dujardin, a French import who seems to have charmed his way into America and the Hollywood elite. They both won Globes this year, one in Drama, the other in Comedy/Musical, and their two performances couldn’t be more different. Since Mr. Clooney already has an Oscar and could very well receive accolades for his work as an actor/director in The Ides of March, I believe the Frenchmen will score the upset. The Oscars love to anoint a new guy in town, and Monsieur Dujardin may be just the fit. Consider the rapid rise of La Vie En Rose's Marion Cotillard. A possible third contender can be found in Mr. Fassbender, in this year’s favorite love it or hate it film, Shame. Though his strongest asset may lie in between his legs, as praised by George Clooney at the Globes, Mr. Fassbender has managed to play a sexy doctor, sexy super villain, sexy Englishman, and sexy sex addict this year. Raw his performance may be, I believe this is the year for everyone to learn his name, not score an award. Oldman has earned rave reviews in Tinker and should get a nomination, as will Hollywood’s (former?) golden boy Pitt, attempting to have his Blind Side moment. However, watch out for Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar, who still has not managed to grab this award, to fight his way into the Top 5. Michael Shannon could have made the cut this year, but his performance in this fall’s Take Shelter seems to have already been locked away in the bunker.

Best Supporting Actor:

Christopher Plummer - Beginners

Albert Brooks - Drive

Jonah Hill – Moneyball

Patton Oswalt – Young Adult

Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn

This is perhaps my least favorite category, for reasons I may not even know. Perhaps it is the thought of a supporting man, just someone along for the ride, not a real man, a leading man, the annoying sidekick. Or maybe it is the bore this category usually turns out to be. We all knew Christoph Waltz was going to win last year, Heath Ledger the year before, and this year seems to have the same fate, with Christopher Plummer finally getting a much deserved Oscar. This is race is not much of one, but rather a guaranteed winner, with the competition being for places 2-5. Unless some act of God occurs, Mr. Plummer has this one locked down in his creaky old bones even tighter than Octavia Spencer has her respective statue in her ample bosom. While Mr. Branagh and Mr. Brooks seem to be a lock in this category, I am voting for the young(er) men Hill and Oswalt to overtake potential contenders like Nick Nolte, Max Von Sydow, John Goodman, or Viggo Mortensen. A nomination for Hill in combination with a nomination for Pitt could bode well for Moneyball's chances at the big win.

Best Actress:

Viola Davis – The Help

Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady

Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs

Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn

Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin

Perhaps the most highly contested category this year is the one that I am always gravitated to the most: Best Actress. And girl, is this a close one. It is no secret that I am a sucker for divas and strong women of all modes; however, the work by the women in this category (and those who will not make the cut) was of an exceptionally high caliber this year, filled with old favorites and new talent. When making a brief list of who might even be eligible to make the cut, the numbers are astonishing: Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre), Charlize Theron (Young Adult), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Helen Mirren (The Debt), Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Anna Paquin (Margaret), Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia), Viola Davis (The Help), Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy Mae Marlene), Adepero Oduye (Pariah), Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn), Jodie Foster (Carnage), and Kate Winslet (Carnage). And surely I have forgotten some. While Streep, Davis, Close, and Williams all seem a lock, the fifth and final spot is up for grabs. Earlier this year, I wouldn’t have considered this category without Elizabeth Olsen (yea, those Olsens) in her breakout performance in Martha Marcy Mae Marlene, however, that film has failed to gain traction, proving a little too indie for this year’s hard-hitting contest. I really admired Charlize Theron’s performance in Young Adult, however that film has been met with even more mixed reviews than Shame, and Ms. Theron would have needed to take out Williams at the Globes for another shot at Oscar glory (don’t worry, she’ll get revenge when her much darker Snow White and the Huntsmen obliterates Julia Robert’s whimsy Mirror Mirror in this spring’s Snow White-off). And while originally I had Ms. Mara on my top five, Tilda Swinton’s performance seems to be gathering steam faster than any of the other contenders, making this a fight of veterans, past nominees and winners. Ms. Mara should take comfort in the fact that she has two more films in her franchise, her character growing ever more complex, the taste growing closer in sight (think The Lord of the Rings final Oscar haul). One would think that Glenn Close might finally have her Susan Lucci moment and win an Oscar, but she will be passed up again by either Streep or Davis. Seeing as her last nomination came in 1989, perhaps she should be happy just to be at the party. Streep or Davis, Streep or Davis, hmmm. Davis will be aided by having the only movie included in the Best Picture category and her recent Tony win for Fences, not to mention the general feel-good quality inherent in The Help, but I believe it is time this year’s Kennedy Center honoree finally returns to the podium as a winner. While the movie she appears in seems slight in comparison, Ms. Streep’s Iron Lady is a study in character construction, transformation, and command of the camera. The detail and attention she gives to even the opening of a DVD case or cracking of an egg puts her in the pantheon of Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. And that's before she opens her mouth, melding her voice impeccably to Ms. Thatcher's. I have betted on her before and lost, but once again, I’m going Streep.

Best Supporting Actress:

Octavia Spencer - The Help

Jessica Chastain - The Help

Megan McCarthy - Bridesmaids

Berenice Bejo - The Artist

Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs

As I already said, this award is Ms. Spencer’s to win, no matter what anyone else has to say about it. However, there are a handful of actresses vying for runner-up. Janet McTeer seems a lockdown for her performance in Nobbs, as does Spencer’s co-star Chastain. Though a bit of a long shot, I am gunning for Megan McCarthy to find herself in this category for her captivating, shocking work in Bridesmaids, not to mention the funniest SNL episode this season. And while I’d like to consider newcomer Shailene Woodley, Carey Mulligan, or Vanessa Redgrave for the fifth spot, I have a feeling it will be Berenice Bejo for The Artist, a film that has a chance to sweep the awards. Redgrave doesn’t need it and surely Mulligan and Woodley will be back again soon. However, should Woodley sneak into the category or Clooney take the frog in his category, The Descendants may have a chance to go all the way.

Best Picture:

The Help

The Descendants

The Artist




War Horse

Midnight in Paris

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


This category is especially difficult to call, as the list of films could number between five and ten, given a new Academy method of determining nominees. While I am considering the first five films lock-ins (the real contenders), the next five represent the films that could, and probably will, be included this year. Paris, Tattoo, and Horse seem pretty good bets, while the rest of the category could be filled with Shame, Tree of Life, We Need to Talk About Kevin, or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close never gained the favor it sought from the critics, while Coriolanus and Martha Marcy Mae Marlene only catered to a small crowd of American movie watchers. If Hugo were not out this year, the Adventures of Tin Tin may have had a chance to get on the list. And if everyone didn’t hate Diablo Cody so much, her movie Young Adult might have made the cut, a la its predecessor Juno. In the end, I am taking a chance on Bridesmaids for its unconventional female comedy, crafty writing, and killer ensemble and the final installment of Harry Potter for its special effects, huge box office, and the ever-improving performances of its entire ensemble, not to mention the very special place that series holds in the hearts of many my age. Besides Martha Marcy Mae Marlene, the most snubbed movie of the year was Jane Eyre. A victim of poor release (summer??) and chilly English accents, this film captivated the dreary mists of the Brontë novel, featuring superb performances by Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, and Dame Judi Dench. For me this is mostly a contest between The Artist and The Descendants, with the silent movie about Hollywood barely edging out the tragic luau that is The Descendants. However, do not count out Hugo, directed by film giant Martin Scorsese, to give a strong third place finish or even take the win. With a much bigger box office and a family-friendly PG rating, Hugo may dominate the technical awards and sneak past the grown up movies for the win. Without any nominees in the acting categories, it will have an uphill battle, 3-D glasses and all.


The Academy announces its nominees tomorrow at 8:30 EST. The big awards show will take place Sunday, February 26, only on ABC.