Monday, January 24, 2011

And the Nominees Are . . .

So, I have been trying to keep busy despite this seasonably freezing weather. And mostly, I have been busy at the movies. Now, I know what some would think, how productive is it to be spend so much time at the movies? How is rampant film watching going to get you anywhere in life? Well, just to clarify, I consider this work, or more specifically research. How else am I supposed to know who the hottest stars are right now? What if they were to walk into my restaurant? And let's not forget all the clever banter I am able to pander at the restaurant. This year, I have done an especially good job at my movie watching. With a few exceptions (Another Year, Somewhere, Get Low, The Company Men, Frankie and Alice), I have seen all the big Oscar contenders this year. And so, on the eve of the Oscar nominations being announced, highly likely that I will be eating crow in a couple months, I have decided to cast my Oscar ballots, attempting to both predict the nominees and potential winner. This year has been a particularly good crop of movies, with both indie films and big blockbusters rising to the occasion. And while I'm not going to attempt to forecast every category, here are my thoughts on the major awards this season.

As far as Best Picture goes, there are some sure-things and some long shots. Sure things include The Social Network, The King's Speech, Toy Story 3, Inception, and buzz-crazy Black Swan. With 10 nominees instead of the typical 5, there is room for underdogs and different 'types' of Oscar contenders (note: Toy Story). Below, you will find what I think should be this year's nominees, though I think True Grit could knock out a number of contenders. Something like Rabbit Hole or Another Year could pull off a surprise and surely movies like Love & Other Drugs, For Colored Girls, Secretariat, or even Burlesque could have been contenders had they gotten better reviews. I would list this summer's Mother and Child among the nominees if anyone (save New York magazine were still talking about it). As for a winner, I think The Social Network will pull through based on the Golden Globes, its box office, and its general buzz worthiness (Mark Zuckerberg was Time's person of the year). Inception could post a threat, but will likely gather no acting nominations (a la Avatar), giving Social Network the win. The King's Speech also garners competition, especially since it could possibly take Best Actor (definitely), Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress, but I think the Academy will once again choose an American story (No Country for Old Men, The Departed) over Anglo-phile fare. The Town may very likely have to give way for True Grit or a number of other movies, but I simply loved this bank-heist blockbuster and think it deserves a nod.

For Best Actor it seems Colin Firth has locked in the win. Though I think he will definitely receive competition from James Franco, Ryan Gosling, and Jesse Eisenberg (the first two appearing on seemingly every magazine cover available this year), he seems prime to knock out his younger rivals. Albeit some my question Gosling's inclusion, with his solid performances in both Valentine and All Good Things combined with he and Valentine's general buzz, he is a sure thing for my money. The fifth spot is a toss-up between Jeff Bridges, Mark Wahlberg, Robert DuVall, and Jim Carrey (ok, I may be the only one championing Mr. Carrey, but here goes). Bridges does a wonderful character act in True Grit, and while a win is unlikely, the Academy may bring last year's winner back for a nomination. While The Fighter has received general praise, the acting accolades have mostly been for Wahlberg's costars Bale, Leo, and even Amy Adams. In truth, he may be the film's central character, but it is the other players who provide the real drama. However, the Academy picked him over Jack Nicholson or Matt Damon for The Departed and may pick him again. Outside bets include recent octo-genarian Robert Duvall, Javier Bardem, and Jim Carrey for his humorous and human performance in I Love You, Philip Morris. The Academy does love surprises, and if I am betting on one, it's Jim Carrey in Best Actor.

Ahhh, my favorite category. For me, every awards season starts with, who will be Best Actress? This year's field is particularly interesting because we are without Ms. Meryl and her record-breaking nomination count (not to mention Academy darlings Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchet, Renee Zelleweger, Judi Dench, or Helen Mirren - though if Hell hath no furry it may hand her a nomination for The Tempest based on credentials alone). Besides Best Picture, this seems to be this year's most fascinating category, with Annette Benning and Natalie Portman looking to gun each other down for a golden man. While I truly did love Benning in The Kids Are Alright, I think Natalie Portman in her dance-thriller Black Swan will triumph. The Academy does love women in transformational roles, does it not (See: The Hours, Monster, The Reader, Boys Don't Cry,etc)? Certainly Natalie Portman had to work a little harder to become a grand ballerina than Benning into a wino lesbian mommy. However, it is interesting to note that Benning's other release this year Mother and Child received much better notices than Portman's recent No Strings Attached. For the other three nominations, I think Jennifer Lawrence is a definite for indie-darling Winter's Bone, and if anything deserved to be nominated from Blue Valentine, it is Michelle Williams. The last spot will probably go to Nicole Kidman for the first good movie she has made in a long while. However, former Academy favorites Halle Berry, Diana Lane, Hilary Swank, or even Anne Hathaway could swoop off with a nomination (somewhere in the distance, past winner Julia Roberts is sobbing into her millions that Eat Pray Love was not the revelation it was meant to be). Also of note, I am predicting Julianne Moore and Hailee Steinfield will go Best Supporting Actress, but both could believably pull a Reader and go Best Actress and leave Williams, Kidman, or Lawrence out in the cold.

Best Supporting Actor seems poised to go to the ludicrous Christian Bale, though Geoffrey Rush seemed set to pick up the award at the start of awards season. While this appears a two man race, there are still three nominations to be snapped up. My guess is that someone from The Social Network will nab a nomination, and it will probably be Andrew Garfield. True Grit could present a nominee, Mr. Bridges included, or perhaps a veteran actor from Get Low, The Company Men, Conviction, or Secretariat. Had Philip Morris received better reviews, Ewan McGregor may received praise for the title character, though I think Jeremy Renner is more likely to receive recognition for the popcorn muncher The Town, in part riding the coattails of last year's Best Picture The Hurt Locker. And if the Academy smiles on The Winter's Bone, relatively unknown John Hawkes could grab a nomination. Many have looked at The Kids Mark Ruffalo for a possible nom, but he should only be considered for his hot daddy sex scenes with Julianne Moore.

In another seemingly open race, The Fighter's Melissa Leo has proved the favorite, though Helena Bonham Carter could give her a run for her money for The King's Speech. Leo will probably win, given her excellent work in the previously nominated Frozen River as well as this year's nearly-acclaimed Welcome to the Rileys and Conviction. If Moore and Steinfeld go Best Supporting, they are sure things in this category, but that is a big If (if there's one prediction I have for this year, it will be a total, unfortunate shutout for Julianne Moore). While one of the Black Swan girls, Mila Kunis or Barbara Hershey, could secure a nomination, my bet is on Rabbit Hole's Dianne Wiest, a former winner in this category (not to mention the mirroring of Tony nominations for Cynthia Nixon and Tyne Daly in 2006). True, a relative unknown for Animal Kingdom, Made in Dagenham, or Another Year could sneak in, and had Burlesque been a good movie, former winner Cher could even be included. Also of note, the many wonderful actresses in For Colored Girls, who will be sadly passed over because of the film's poor box office and scathing reviews. Thandie Newton and Loretta Devine could both have looked forward to this category, but will instead have to look for another director besides the ill-talented Mr. Perry. If Steinfeld goes Best Actress or Moore is forgotten, look for Ms. Kunis (I saw her eat a muffin on the set of Friends with Benefits) to swoop in and grab a nomination.

The Best Director nominees will most likely follow the Best Picture front runners, though Mr. Hooper could battle his way onto my list, or even the Coen brothers or Mike Nichols for Another Year. With both The Kids Are Alright and Winter's Bone both in contention, we will most likely see at least one woman in this very male-dominated category.

Finally, here are my Oscar predictions. Please note, these are both the movies and I think should be nominated as well as those I think will be nominated.

Best Picture:
*The Social Network
Toy Story 3
The King's Speech
The Fighter
Black Swan
The Kids Are Alright
127 Hours
The Town
Winter's Bone
(Although it was very hard to ignore True Grit, the Coen brothers have received a lot of love from the Academy before - and surely will again. Still, their box-office boom may knock out a smaller movie like Winter's Bone, 127 Hours, or The Kids Are Alright. In the distance, indie fave Blue Valentine could come through.)

Best Actor:
*Colin Firth - The King's Speech
James Franco - 127 Hours
Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
Ryan Gosling - Blue Valentine
Jim Carrey - I Love You, Philip Morris

Best Actress:
Annette Benning - The Kids Are Alright
*Natalie Portman - Black Swan
Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine
Nicole Kidman - Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:
*Christian Bale - The Fighter
Geoffrey Rush - The King's Speech
Andrew Garfield - The Social Network
Matt Damon - True Grit
Jeremy Renner - The Town

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:
Melissa Leo - The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter - The King's Speech
Dianne Wiest - Rabbit Hole
Julianne Moore - The Kids Are Alright
Hailee Steinfeld - True Grit

Best Director:
Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan
Christopher Nolan - Inception
Danny Boyle - 127 Hours
David Fincher - The Social Network
Debra Granik - Winter's Bone

What I'm Watching: Shortbus, The Princess and the Frog, GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra, For Your Consideration, I Love You, Philip Morris, Arrested Development

What I'm Reading: The Devil Wears Prada

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How The Help Helped Me

I recently finished The Help, Kathyrn Stockett's best-selling novel about white women and their domestic help in the 1960's. Set in Jackson, Mississippi, the novel travels between the voices of Miss Skeeter, a recent Ole Miss graduate who feels out of place in her hometown, Aibileen, a woman known for her work with children and her prayer list, and Minny, a woman renown for both her sass and her cooking. The novel tells the interlacing story of these three women's lives and their plot to publish a book telling the truth about being being a maid in the South. Having been on my reading list for a while, I finally got around to cracking the spine of what has been one of this year's most talked about books.

I have already started casting the movie. For one thing, the book is clearly a ladies' piece, a sort of continuation on the idea behind Clare Boothe Luce's The Women (don't worry my movie will be more like the landmark original movie as opposed to the lacking Meg Ryan remake). With lots of character roles, cameos, and an undoubtedly big budget (it is a best seller), this tentative movie (I am sure there is one in the works) is a sure hit. In the wake of Eat Pray Love, Sex & the City, Twilight, and The Secret Life of Bees, this movie is fodder for a market that is ready to be tapped (book clubs embrace yourselves). As with all things popular and African-American in today's film world, I am sure Oprah and Tyler Perry will need to be involved. Let's just hope it's solely on a monetary or publicity basis (a la Precious, not For Colored Girls). However, now that I think about it, the big O herself might make a wonderful Aibileen and would surely fill seats, though my first choice would probably be Viola Davis. On the other hand, maybe this could be a proper vehicle for Queen Latifah (please, someone, stop her from making any more movies like The Holiday, Taxi Cab, or Just Wright). For some cameos as the older white ladies, Mrs. Walters and Mrs. Phelan, perhaps we might see some of my favorites like Cloris Leechman, Betty White, Shirley Maclaine, Vanessa Redgrave (as she is so enjoying her current turn as an old Southern gal in the current revival of Driving Miss Daisy), or my personal favorite Elaine Stritch. I would love just to get a glimpse of that bunch lined up in the audition room. Moreover, I think we have to include Cicely Tyson. After playing the 100-year-old ex-slave in Miss Jane Pittman, this would only be too appropriate since she is now 100 (OK, not quite). For Minny, I am initially thinking pre-Weight Watchers Jennifer Hudson or Gabourey Sidiee. Of course, this would be a great opportunity for an unknown, the next Gabourey Sidibe. I am finding the young white ladies a little harder to cast. For evil Hilly, I am thinking Kirsten Dunst, but is she too old? I fear I may have to resort to one of my Gossip Girl co-stars like Leighton Meester, Taylor Mumsen, or Blake Lively to fill those roles (depending on when we get started on this project, someone call me NOW). Come to think, wouldn't that plotting nasty Juliet, played by Katie Cassidy (so venomous, who would think she is David Cassidy's son, I mean daughter), be a most nasty Miss Hilly? If Blake Lively is involved, I think it is required she either get beat up (not in the book) or have to use very long, well enunciated sentences. Something awful. Even if she's not Miss Hilly, I want her to eat that shit pie. She's 23! For Christ's Sake, how she is famous, and not me! How is she on the cover of Vogue, how has she hosted SNL?!? DO YOU KNOW HOW FUCKING FUNNY I CAN BE, LORNE MICHAELS???

Hhhhhhh. (As Susan Lori-Parks would write, that indicates a vocalized breath and a long pause).

In the perfect cameo role as Ms. Steinn, the editor form Harper & Rowe whom a very foolish Miss Skeeter corresponds with, who else but Janeane Garofalo! Just imagine, the smoke, the New York attitude, all that black! If she's not available, I am sure we could Diane Keaton, Parker Posey, Marcia Gay Harder, or even, Ms. Meryl Streep. And I don't care who Patrick Wilson plays, if I am making this movie, I want him in it. And Patricia Clarkson. That woman just begs for an all-star female cast. I know! Stuart's mother, the Governor's wife, Mrs. Willworth. She works three or four days, kills one scene, and is in the movie. Now directors and writers. Keep Tyler Perry away! Perhaps someone like Susan-Lori or Lynn Nottage or even Nancy Meyers, but not him! I am one of five people that actually saw both Why Did I Get Married? and Why Did I Get Married Too? By the end, it was just unintelligible screaming and pretty scenery. The Help begs for a hand adept at a mix of comedy and drama, laughter and tears, not the usual melodramatic fare Mr. Perry dishes (and apparently dishes to little boys on the side - allegedly!). How about that girl that directed this year's The Kids Are All Right? What is her name . . .

In researching for this post, I have just discovered there is already a film set to open this year. So much for being on the cutting edge. They've chosen Emma Stone as Miss Skeeter - fabulous! How is she off my radar? I loved her in Easy A. Did you? And you know what, I called both Viola Davis and Cicely Tyson's involvement in the picture. Called it! The rest of the cast list reads a little off from my predictions, but wasn't that fun? I suppose my movie does indeed have a bigger budget, not to mention a starry finish.

In addition to film aspirations, The Help also has me cooking. There are so many references to butter beans, ham somethings, and time spent in the kitchen, that it had me itching to return to domesticity, a reminder of my moonlighting stints as a cook/caretaker. In true hospitable fashion, I had a group of very dear friends over for a Southern feast: 3 Meat Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes, Mushroom Gravy, Collard Greens, Butter Beans, Sweet Potato Biscuits (recipe follows), and Pecan Pie. Mmmm. We ate ourselves up to the gills then thanked the Lord it wasn't bathing suit season. It felt good to spend some time alone in my kitchen, sweating and stirring, making sure that I still had it in me. I don't go to therapy, I cook and eat.

More than cooking, this book has me thinking. A young woman from the South, feeling out of place, dreaming of New York. Sound familiar? I have been working to refuel my ambition, to remember why I cam here, to finally fucking move on. I am ready for adventure, for danger, to take a chance; I am hungry for more. After letting myself lie complacent and lazy, a little depressed (and understandably so), it's time to get myself out of the house and back in the game, to recapture the hunger and ambition that drove me all through high school and college. True, there is no gold star or A on my report card to work towards, but instead a feeling of accomplishment and personal fulfillment. In the book, Skeeter discovers a passion in herself, as do Aibileen and Minny, a voice desperate to be heard. It's time I start making a little more noise. Where exactly I want to go, I am not totally sure, but isn't the journey and not the destination that's important anyway? For now, I am pushing myself to get blogging, to start singing again, to go back on the audition trail, and focus my energies outside of my apartment and cozy Astoria. I have been reading a lot of celeb bios lately, tales of the long, hard, and determined journey it is to be a performer, or any artist for that matter. If there is one thing I have gleaned, it's that breaks don't just happen, but rather come from a concerted, almost maniacal effort to succeed. So for now, I'm a maniac. A maniac with a newfound subscription to Netflix that is changing my life. If anything, my artistic quest has just begun. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Mama Dip's Sweet Potato Biscuits
2 cups mashed sweet potatoes (boil two medium sized sweet potatoes, cool, peel, and mash - or use canned)
1 stick of butter, melted
1 1/2 cups room temperature milk
4 cups self-rising flour
Pinch Baking soda
3 TB sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together the sweet potatoes, milk, and butter using a pastry blender or fork until mixture is smooth. Slowly, stir in dry ingredients until a dough is formed. Place dough on well-floured board or counter mat and knead 8-10 times (dough will be very light and fragile). Roll out 1-inch thick and cut with floured 2-inch biscuit cutter or a highball glass. Bake in a greased baking pan for 15-20 minutes until bottoms are brown and biscuits (biscuit tops will not change color much). Serve warm with butter, honey, or jam. The best way to get your vegetables since Carrot Cake.

What I'm Reading: Patti Lupone: A Memoir

What I'm Watching: Rosemary's Baby, The Runaways, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Interiors, Hannah and Her Sisters, Rabbit Hole

Monday, January 3, 2011

Holiday Hangover

The holidays are over. You and I both made it through, and fairly successfully if I may so. Gone are the parties, the planning, the decorations, and feasting. It is back to work, back to the grind, back to sobriety and frugality. Refreshing, no? After my cozy trip to Indiana, I returned to New York and mountains of snow. Apparently I missed quite the blizzard. While my flight was for the most part on time and hassle free (especially compared to some of my fellow holiday travelers), I was somewhat aghast at the two hour wait I endured for a taxi cab. Luckily, a friend of mine was on the same plane as I was (weird right?), and I had a full pack of cigarettes at my disposal. Once home, I slipped on my rainboots (they count as snow boats if you wear two layers of socks I have decided) and trudged through the snow to get my week's schedule at work. It's funny, each time I leave New York, I come back wanting it more, feeling more at home here, ready for my next adventure, to go deeper into city life. Admittedly, it does take me a few days to get back into city mode, to move a little faster, get a little sassier, and sometimes a little mean. After obtaining my work schedule, I decided it was a good idea to venture to Manhattan to meet a friend for a drink. As soon as I walked in, I was more than a little shell shocked. Loud music, tons of people, low lighting, and lots of drinks. I don't think anywhere I went in Indiana was that crowded, not even church on Christmas Eve. Though this was no church. I ordered my Manhattan on the rocks and quietly stood near my friend, still coy and shy from my travels.

On return to work, I was more than a little rusty. Given it was an usually busy Thursday night, I found myself with my coworkers and customers, every little thing setting me off, while each mistake I made doubling the anxiety. My manager had to keep telling me, "Don't worry baby, we're gonna get through it," reminding me of a quote from Elaine Stritch at Liberty once she has decided to start performing sober: "Elainnne, you'll stop crowds again. But tonight, just get through it." I think she and I both did in our respective ways, and for that night at least, soberly. Luckily, I had that one day to shake off the dust because the next night was New Year's Eve, one of our busiest nights of the year. We ran food and served Coq au Vin, serving cocktails and opening Champagne, only one bottle of which exploded on me. A busy but not crazy New Year's, we must have got the couples who don't want to leave their borrow, get drunk only once or twice a year, and fall asleep shortly after midnight. 12 o'clock hit, we drank our toast, bells and whistles and noise makers blowing, then quickly did our best to shoo everyone out of the restaurant. We needed to celebrate New Years as well after all. The restaurant clean and most of us covered in glitter, we bounded into the night seeking fun and more drinks. Unfortunately, by the time we went out into the night, the bars were beginning to quiet down, the remaining customers entirely in the can. While a few stragglers wondered home early, the rest of us ended our night at a diner, exhausted more than anything (though I think I did leave one bar feeling quite buzzed and cursing the snow).

The next night was slow at work, all of us a little partied out and listless to our customers' needs. Thank goodness everyone was for the most part playing nice that night. Having a friend in from out of town, the gang let me loose earlier, releasing me into the streets and onto the Manhattan-bound train with a clear purpose in mind: make up for a somewhat lame New Year's. I found my two friends from college cozied up together on a couch in an otherwise very crowded bar. Our mutual friend recently started work there, and saint that he is, hooked us up all night. After my second double vodka soda, I start talking faster and louder, cursing more frequently, "holding court" as I do. After another and two shots, I was feeling very good, invincible, flawless. I decided it would be a good idea to venture over to the couch and "make friends." Dragging my cohort along, I chatted away with these complete strangers, each thinking I was completely off my rocker, my friend probably joining them in this opinion. Deciding it was time he went home (he had been at this bar for about 5 hours by now), we said our goodbyes and forced our ways into a taxi. Dropping him off at our friend's apartment in Gramercy, I headed back to Queens, the party still raging inside of me. After initially giving the driver my home address, once over the bridge I told him to change directions, meeting up with my friends instead. More shots and now dancing occurred, albeit we were the only ones dancing. My shoes slick from the snow, I was having trouble staying upright while dancing, but don't worry I turned this into part of my moves. That's right, when I go dancing on Saturday, it includes a bit of floor exercise. The bewitching over, we left the bar, I left my friends, intent on finding McDonald's or bust. Walking through the drive through window (they lock the door after 12, wonder why?), I ordered a Big N Nasty, McNuggets, and fries. I ate the sandwich on the way home, then fell asleep with the rest of my order on my nightstand. Creature comforts. At least, I didn't have to go to bed alone.

Oh, I'm supposed to go to brunch the next morning? I am supposed to work that evening? Because let me tell you, I am in great shape and my head is not hurting at all. I shower and put some semblance of clothing, then make my way for the train. Brunch is nice, as I try to pretend I have an ounce of class, sipping my coffee and nibbling at my brussel sprout caesar salad, when all I really want to do is guzzle down copious amounts of water and coffee and eat the greasiest thing in sight. Correction, all I really want to do is be in bed. We make through brunch, I only have to use the bathroom once, then head out to do some shopping and city wandering. After walking around a few designer stores, I decided this hangover is not going away, and I need a drink. We head to Rose Mexicana where I have two Buena Vidas (grapefruit vodka muddled with cucumber - delish!), and my friends have a Diet Coke and cup of coffee respectively. Clearly, one of us has a problem. We depart ways and make our separate goodbyes, me running for the train, realizing I should have left half an hour ago. I arrive to work just a little late, with no uniform, no apron, and lots of bad excuses. I run home and change clothes real quick, jogging back over to work with all my sad apologies. With half the staff hungover or on a double, we are one hot mess. Luckily, it seems all of our customers were in a similarly somber state, relaxed by their weekend of fun, savoring the last bits of recreation before returning to work on Monday.

So there it is, the holidays. Finally fucking over. It's back to work, back to the grind, back to clarity and normalcy (or let us hope). Hope you all had a happy and safe New Year and hope to see you in 2011.

Currently Listening to: Rihanna Loud, Far East Movement "Like a G6"

Currently Watching: Blue Valentine, 127 Hours