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 MenchĂș 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 BrontĂ« 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.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Starting Over Again

Baking has taught me many valuable lessons. Preheat the oven. Give yourself plenty of time. Avoid high altitudes. And sometimes you just need to scrap the whole goddamned thing and start over. While I am currently not doing much baking (or getting baked for that matter), I am making a whole lot of big changes in my life and starting 2012 with a bang. After a raucous family cruise filled with more eating and boozing than even I am used to, I am giving sobriety a chance, albeit just for a brief stint. Looking ahead to the New Year, I find myself looking for a new job and a new roommate. After flirting with graduate school for years, I am finally, seriously investigating the next step in my education. Though if this 2+ year stint in NYC has been anything, an education is certainly a valid description. I have read, watched, tasted, and seen more than I can imagine; the depth of my experience has been the highest of highs (literally) and the lowest of lows. I have acquired skills and tasted big city flair. Through everything, I have dug deeper into myself, knowing myself better, attempting to love myself more. While it would seem I have set childish dreams aside, those dreams have simply evolved with me, the path veering to the left and becoming clearer. Now, this isn't to say that I have all the answers or any more of a clue where I will be in a year than I did last year at this time, but instead my priorities have been realigned, my passions reinvigorated. All my life, I have been really different. Why should not my life be an exception? I have often told people that it takes a lot to wake up in the morning, look this in the mirror, and choose to accept it. Most laugh and dismiss my ridiculousness, but I believe that the path of an unconventional person is not always the easiest to walk down. Much of the secret of life lies in the ability to love one's self, not out of conceit or narcissism, but to look within oneself, knowing and accepting that person within. Out of one's true self springs all creativity, love, passion, the spiritual blood and guts that make human life the most fascinating occurrence on this planet. Surely at times I have longed for the comfort a traditional trek. The high school sports, the college girlfriend, the established career path, the steady job, the mortgage and the marriage and the children. Though I suspect I would fail miserably at most of these things if I tried. The most difficult thing about being a square peg is finally realizing that you will never fit into that circular hole. A few times I have borne the bruises of all that ill-fitting thrusting (conceptually speaking, of course). I don't know what this year will hold for me exactly, but I am betting on good things, progress towards my ultimate goals and dreams.

What I'm Reading: Barrel Fever, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

What I'm Listening to: Aretha Franklin: Greatest Hits, "Mine" Taylor Swift (don't judge!)

What I'm Watching: The View, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Get Him to the Greek, Rebecca

This Day

This day has come again. The air is crisp and cold; the sun is out, shining brightly in a sky peppered with wisps ofclouds. I wake up and go about my day, drunk with dreamy sleep. For weeks now I have been preparing myself for today. Small batches of grief well up and release. Memories flash back to me in an instant. This day is somehow always on my mind, yet mostly silent, a wallflower at the back of my pscyhe. I find myself sitting at the same kitchen table that I sat at two years ago, desperately trying to get back to Indiana, the same tears running down my face. Snatches of text messages and phone calls flicker for an instant in my mind. Images so seared in my memory play on repeat. I remember the vodka filled orange juice I chugged on my 6 a.m. flight, my sobs causing alarm among my fellow passengers and the crew (darkly, I think this was my chance to finally get upgraded to first class). I remember the dark sunglasses, the way my breath floated past me in the frozen air. Did her last breath float away like a little cloud as well? I remember the elevator doors opening, revealing nearly every important person from my life, anxiously awaiting my arrival. I remember the sardonic mask I wore, attempting to deflect grief with wit and vulgarity. I remember good friends and cigarettes and that hollow, empty look that has just recently my parents' faces. I hear the clack of my leather shoes against the cool hospital tile, pacing back and forth, keeping guard to my sister's quarters. That hard clack still follows me around in airports, cruise ship hallways, and city streets. This day plays on repeat constantly in my head, but especially today. I date my deposit at the bank today and grimace, thinking why can't it just be tomorrow? I go from small talk with new friends to sadly facing my reality, begging courage to speak the truth. I have repeated this story enough for a whole lifetime. In the middle of the ocean, thinking I am a stranger in a distant land, the sea and island sounds surround me with her essence. The pain subsides but lingers. No longer suffocated by grief, I am all too aware of the astringent power of loss. This day will never go away; it will come every year just like all the good days. Today I will be blue and humble and quiet. Today I will remember. Tomorrow will come, and I will wake up and live and laugh. But I will never forget.