Friday, February 27, 2009


I live in the greater Los Angeles area, a market where one might reasonably assume (especially if you live elsewhere) that there would be a bounty of good over-the-airwaves radio available to anyone with an A.M. or F.M. dial. But if you did assume that, especially lately, you would be wrong. The recent demise of the influential Indie 103.1, which still exists online in an automated version, having given up its frequency to yet another ranchera music station; the loss of mediocre F.M.-talk station KLSX to a top-40 format; even the emergence of yet another ‘brand-name” format (The Sound at 100.3, kinda like 93.1 Jack F.M. only sleepy instead of snarky); none of these recent wrinkles have exactly added shine and panache or even a modicum of interest to a market dominated by conservative talk and deadly KIIS-FM-inspired hit formats. In my car I usually defer to sports talk radio these days, especially now that baseball season is, thank God, nigh and the local boneheads can rest a beat or two in between breathless NFL draft and Kobe Bryant updates. (My favorites? Dan Patrick and Petros Papadakis, one half of the Petros and Money team—I can do without his partner.)

But lately I’m like everyone else, living in relative musical isolation with my iPod and Pandora, where I already have my own radio stations built around Rush, Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, Italian composer Piero Piccioni, and all the various artists who fit in with those three distinctive musical voices. I like the control of my musical diet, and speaking as an ex-disc jockey and music director myself, I like the fact that I don’t have to listen to all the mindless yammering in between songs. Even so, I do yearn occasionally for the human touch, the sense that what I’m hearing is unified by a strong musical sensibility-- not my own-- that is also susceptible to the kind of quirks which usually get ironed out of computer-generated play lists based on demographics and assumed taste. That’s why I’m glad for the presence of friend and fellow Fountains of Wayne fanatic Dicey Reilly, whose weekly slot Friday evenings from 5:00 to 7:00 on Long Beach City College radio station KCTY is a real oasis in a land of radio mediocrity.

Dicey is someone I’ve known for over 15 years whose musical tastes and pop culture acumen are as unimpeachable as they are unapproachable. I don’t know anyone whose breadth of knowledge about pop music matches or surpasses his—I’ve always felt that he could have been (and still could be) a Tarantino-era music supervisor for the movies on the order of a Randall Poster or Karyn Rachtman. Luckily for listeners, he brings that knowledge and spirit to the air every week, for an all-too-brief window, on his Shake and Pop radio show, and all we have to do is get to a computer. (KCTY streams all their programming, including Dicey’s two hours.) Tonight, for example, he’ll be packing a ton into those 120 minutes. How’s this for eclectic? Salutes to Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, the Oscars (!), African-American History Month (Part 2: The Soul years), Punks Who Love the Beatles and a “Remembering Socks the Cat” music block. Thankfully, if you’re not in the Los Angeles area the Internet can magically connect you to Dicey’s playhouse—you don’t have to be one of us who puts up with wildfires and insane traffic gridlock to enjoy what he has to offer. I invite you to check out Dicey’s show and make it a habit—it just might cheer you up about the state of human-programmed-and-executed rock radio all over again.


Monday, February 23, 2009


UPDATED Wednesday February 25 3:33 p.m.

Your after-Oscar mint… Sam Peckinpah’s Convoy (in nine parts).

Imagine Sean Penn muttering into the CB mike, Kate Winslet riding shotgun:

“It was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June
In a Kenworth pullin’ logs
Cab-over Pete with a reefer on
And a Jimmy haulin hogs
We’s headin’ for bear on I-1-0
‘Bout a mile outta Shaky Town
I says, Pig Pen, this here’s the Rubber Duck
and I’m about to put the hammer down…”

UPDATE Wednesday February 25: If you have DirecTV or a cable company that provides high-definition programming, you can see a bit higher-resolution of Convoy tonight as part of a grimy Peckinpah double-header on the MGM HD channel. Here's tonight's relaxing evening entertainment courtesy of this network, which has MGM/UA's excellent catalog of movies upon which to draw each and every day (all times Pacific, all plot descriptions MGM's):

8:00 p.m. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) A seedy American (Warren Oates) and his hooker girlfriend (Silvia Pinal) seek an angry father's $1 million bounty.

10:10 p.m. Convoy (1978) Trucker (Kris Kristofferson) blocks crooked sheriff (Ernest Borgnine) with big rigs.

I love the hard-boiled, non-nonsense clarity of these descriptions, even given the presence of the editorial boner that places Bunuel's Viridiana in the Isela Vega role in Alfredo Garcia. Such a description of Peckinpah's 1974 thriller is somewhat reductive, to be sure, but boiling down the basics of the plot is actually a fair representation of Convoy, a meat-and-potatoes movie if there ever was one from a director not usually inclined to provide such easily digestible fare. So if you've never seen Convoy, grab this chance if you can-- the MGM HD network doesn't have it on its schedule again in the immediate future, and the movie does have its grunting, smashing, sometimes even lyrical pleasures, even if it can't really be counted among the director's best.


Sunday, February 22, 2009


If it isn’t obvious by now, Paul Clark’s brainchild The Muriel Awards has, in its third season of counter-programming the Oscar race, really come into its own. There has been such a bounty of excellent writing and sharp insight in this year’s crop of choices that readers should experience a slight twinge of guilt that it’s all being delivered free of charge, one from the heart as Mr. Coppola once said, putting the kind of salivating coverage of awards season available from such august outlets as the Los Angeles Times to shame on merit of writing alone, not to mention disregard for the industry’s tendency to insist upon calling all the dances. In introducing this last series of Muriels updates, I just want to thank Paul Clark, Steven Carlson and all of the contributing writers who have given us all such a bounteous treat over the past two weeks. If I could buy you all a beer or invite you over to my house tonight so we could commiserate about how much Oscar actually missed this year, I would. But we have all these fantastic essays to read instead, and what a pleasure it has been, and continues to be.

Paul promises updates every half-hour throughout the day and evening, as there are some 30 or so essays on all the Muriel Best Picture also-rans to be published and savored leading up to the crowning of this year’s Muriel Award winner for Best Picture. (I don’t know what it is either, so don’t ask me for inside information.) Until then, please take the time to catch up on some of these final categories:

The Muriel Awards entry on Also-Ran Performances (Part 1) features Matt Noller on Sally Hawkins, Lucas McNelly on Mathieu Amalric, ALexander Coleman on Meryl Streep, Sean Burns on Marisa Tomei, Martin McClellan on the Burn After Reading ensemble, Andrew Bemis and James Frazier on Kate Winslet, and Jim Emerson on Lucy, the unsung other half of Wendy and Lucy.

The Also-Ran Performances series continues with Part 2 which focuses on pieces from Evan Derrick on Sean Penn, Craig Kennedy on Penelope Cruz, Jason Overbeck on Michelle Williams, Phil Nugent on Viola Davis, Kent M. Beeson on Samantha Morton, Patrick Williamson on Juliette Binoche and Craig D. Lindsey on Robert Downey Jr.

Then there’s the crowning on the Muriel Award Winners for Best Performance (Female) and Best Performance (Male).

Finally, the BEST PICTURE series gets started in earnest with Steven Carlson on the movie that placed 28th in the poll of Muriels contributors, Silent Light.

30th place features a tie between Still Life (Michael Lieberman) and Che (Ari Dassa).

Bryan Whitefield on Reprise, the movie that placed 35th

And just posted, number 28 on the Muriels hit parade with 43 points and four votes (Four! Yes!) is a little film called Speed Racer, with some accompanying words written by Your Humble Narrator. It starts like this:

“What do movies as disparate as It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra; 1947), The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Billy Wilder; 1970), The Thing (John Carpenter; 1982) and Blade Runner (Ridley Scott; also 1982) have in common? On the surface, not much. However, each of these visually resplendent pictures was a flop at the box-office and years later came to be regarded as either among their celebrated directors’ best, most personal films or, in the case of Blade Runner, so stylistically influential that it can be said to have changed the way futurism in cinematic science fiction has been realized ever since. To that list of recognized classics I volunteer to add the unjustly maligned, often willfully misunderstood, and completely enthralling Speed Racer, my unashamed pick for the best movie of 2008. This is a movie of shimmering poetry, shifting, gliding perspectives and a velocity that pulsates with meaning and feeling, a movie so far ahead of the curve of the general audience (and levels of tolerance for its disorienting and radical visual grammar) that it might take at least 20 years, and a wave of failed, Wachowski-tinged pyrotechnical movie piracy, for it to be able to take its rightful place as a landmark of personal filmmaking in the blockbuster mode.”

You can read the entire piece right here.

Please check this space later today for more updates, or just click on the Muriel Awards button on the sidebar to go directly to Silly Hats Only and find out about another movie you may have missed that is leagues ahead of The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button andFrost/Nixon, and perhaps even Milk and Slumdog Millionaire for best picture quality.

And thanks again, Paul, Steven and company. It has been an extraordinary pleasure keeping your company this winter. Bring on Muriels 2009!


Saturday, February 21, 2009


UPDATED February 22 11:19 a.m.

Okay, so we’ve reached the portion of our program where your marginally interested host feigns interest in the actual Oscar awards long enough to go out on a limb and make his Oscar office pool picks public. This act of exhibitionism should in no way be interpreted as excitement over the line-up of nominees Oscar has culled from the past year—I don’t remember a year in which the general crop of movies released during the eligible 12 months was so much better and more interesting overall than the movies chosen by AMPAS for Kodak Theater honors. (Remember that last year’s Oscar for Best Picture, as well as several others, went to the movie that a good portion of us actually believed was the best picture of 2007, No Country for Old Men.) This year the two movies among Oscar’s top five that actually made my own year-end list ranked only #19 (Slumdog Millionaire) and #17 (Milk). There were 16 other movies I thought were more deserving of the honor of Best Picture, and most of the people I know who write about movies and see them fervently would probably say the same (though the numbers, and the movies, probably differ). Nor should the appearance of these barely-educated guesses provide the template for your own Oscar pool ballot—in many instances here I’m more likely to take chances on the odd long shot or left-field pick because there’s no money involved. But my own Oscar pool ballot—the one you guys will not see-- is likely to hew far more closely to the kind of conventional wisdom found in Entertainment Weekly and other oracles of Oscar foreknowledge. So for crying out loud, don’t put these picks on your own ballot if you expect to win, and if you do don’t tell me about it, especially if you lose. Onward.

Blind Guess Department

Best Live Action Short Film: Just because I like the title, Manon on the Asphalt.

Best Animated Short Film: I heard a guy on the radio yesterday tout La Maison et Petit Cubes, but I have no idea whether he just picked the name out of a hat or not, so I’m going to stick with the tried and true and pick Pixar’s Presto, which happens to be a wonderful short. (You saw it before Wall-E.)

Best Documentary Short: The Witness—from the Balcony of Room 306 (See irrefutable reasoning cited for Best Live Action Short Film.)

Best Documentary Feature: I actually saw a majority of the nominees this year (a rarity), but that doesn’t make this category any easier to pick. But something tells me the stunning spectacle of Philippe Petit’s performance art stunt extraordinaire documented in Man on Wire will outweigh the personal perspective on Hurricane Katrina in Trouble the Water and Werner Herzog (and the insane penguin) and their haunting Encounter at the End of the World.

Best Foreign Language Film: The ones we’ve heard of and perhaps even seen (this year, The Class and Waltz with Bashir) usually don’t do so well come award time, and in spite of Bashir's assumed front-runner status, no animated film or documentary has ever won in this category. Out of the other nominees (The Baader-Meinhof Complex and Revanche), I’m going out on a shaky limb and picking Departures, this year’s as-yet-unreleased-in-America entry from Japan.

The Major Categories

Best Visual Effects: If it were my pick, I’d go with the magic that made Iron Man clank and fly and blow up real good. But Oscar ain’t me—the technical categories will belong to Benjamin Button and Batman, and for this one I think they’ll like The Dark Knight.

Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing: Most of the general Academy voting base, I think it can probably safely assumed, doesn’t really get the difference between sound mixing and sound editing-- editing being the way the various sound effects are assembled and employed, either judiciously or generously, and mixing being the way the sounds are layered together to create the ambient soundscape of the film. Given the general level of enthusiasm for the film, and the understanding that sound is one of the major reasons why it works as well as it does, it’s hard to imagine these awards going to anything other than Wall-E, unless the misunderstanding of “Best Sound” as being directly related to decibel level overrides everything, as it frequently has in the past. If this happens, look for a win for The Dark Knight.

Best Original Song: I’m more upset by the absence of Clint Eastwood than Bruce Springsteen in this category, but really, only three songs nominated? How many years in the past could we have eliminated this category altogether? And to not include Springsteen’s "The Wrestler” and Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” both songs that were thematically resonant and relevant to their films, seems especially nonsensical. Not that either one of them would necessarily have stood a chance against the evening’s likely juggernaut, Slumdog Millionaire, which will likely take home its first Oscar (depending on the order in which they are given out, of course), for A. R. Rahman’s feel-good Bollywood closer, ”Jai Ho.”

Best Original Musical Score: Personally, I’d hand it to Thomas Newman for his evocative Wall-E score. And maybe Oscar will too. But I think A. R. Rahman’s chance to take home two music Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire are better than good, and since that means the overreaching and relentless piano-based musings of Alexandre Desplat for Benjamin Button will be passed over, I have no problem with anointing Rahman twice. (Not that I have anything against Desplat-- he deserved the award for Birth in 2004.)

Best Makeup: The incredible old-age makeup, standing in for Brad Pitt’s performance in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which burrows beyond interior and into the realm of the recessive), will hold the day, though it’s hard to see how the amazing creations that populate the universe of Hellboy II: The Golden Army could be seen as second, or probably even third-best in this category.

Best Film Editing: Flashiest usually equals best in this category. Benjamin Button’s editorial scheme will be perceived as too leisurely for consideration, Milk and Frost/Nixon not nearly ostentatious enough. The Dark Knight was both praised and criticized for its editing, but Slumdog Millionaire’s front-runner status in the Best Picture race will make the movie’s hay here—that and the movie’s status as the poster child for breathless pacing and the smash-cut, not to mention nominee Chris Dickens’ facility with the tools of traditional storytelling.

Best Costume Design: Dare you vote against the bustles and bodices and surreal wiggery of The Duchess? I daren’t, and nor will Oscar.

Best Cinematography: I haven’t even seen The Reader yet (I hope to tonight), but even sight unseen I don’t see how it could possibly be anything but brilliant visually, with both Chris Menges and Roger Deakins in control of the lighting. But I am expecting a Slumdog Millionaire kind of night, and given Anthony Dod Mantle’s recent honor from the American Society of Cinematographers Slumdog’s chances look excellent here.

Best Art Direction/Set Design: I might, if I were choosing among these five nominees, choose the work of James Murakami in Changeling, a movie I didn’t much care for but which was soaked in the kind of lived-in period realism that either makes up for myriad sins or distracts viewers from the deficiencies of the rest of the picture. But the Academy will likely be tempted by the sumptuous Victorian period dressing of The Duchess before handing the award over to the richly evoked history of New Orleans in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Best Animated Feature: The industry insiders showered a lot of love on Kung Fu Panda at the recent Annie Awards. But though they were undoubtedly an influence in the Panda’s nomination here, the voting on the actual award is turned in by the entire Academy, and the general consensus is that Wall-E is the better movie. Advantage: the robot with the heart of gold.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Perhaps the evening’s most top-loaded category. I think a case could be made for almost any of the nominees as a potential winner. But it’s hard to deny the momentum that Slumdog Millionaire is experiencing going into tomorrow night’s show, and as such its screenplay ought to reign victorious here.

Best Original Screenplay: This is the category with the highest level of quality, nominee to nominee. With the exception of Courtney Hunt’s unexceptional, crime-sorta-does-pay indie poverty thriller Frozen River, each screenplay honored here really does deserve to be honored. But as brilliant as the scripts for Happy-Go-Lucky and In Bruges may be, the movies themselves are untethered to nominations in any other category. Wall-E could float to victory on a wave of emotion, but many might perceive its screenplay as simply 40 or so pages of camera directions and sound effects descriptions before getting to the dialogue, as if screenplays are only really the sum of their spoken words. (I actually heard some genius espouse this theory on the radio this past week.) It seems that, given these conditions, Dustin Lance Black’s intelligent (if conventional) script for Milk is a strong contender.

Best Supporting Actor: I’d like to think that it’s possible that this could be something other than the Heath Ledger category, but that’s probably the evening’s most unlikely bet. Yes, it would be a beautiful thing to see Robert Downey Jr. steal this one, but sentiment and genuine enthusiasm for Ledger’s performance will prove unbeatable.

Best Supporting Actress: One of two Oscar categories (the other also involves females) that provide almost impossible-to-call situations during an otherwise virtually perspiration-free evening. With all due respect to Taraji P. Henson and Amy Adams, these were well-crafted, monochromatic performances that will provide no real competition here. But any of the other three could take the award easily. Penelope Cruz is the prohibitive favorite, and her win this afternoon at the Indeoendent Spirit Awards says a lot for her support in actor circles. And anyone who saw Doubt knows how brilliant Viola Davis was, holding her own in a brief, one-scene performance with Meryl Streep that makes Beatrice Straight look like a red-eyed, red-headed stepchild. She could easily steal this one from the sultry Spaniard. But I’ll hark back to the year 1992 for my prediction. That night on the red carpet hot-shot Rob Reiner, a presumed front-runner for A Few Good Men (which, happily, won nothing that night), was asked about his chances and he cracked, “Well, we’re not exactly Marisa Tomei.” No one thought Tomei had a chance to win against heavyweight Brits like Miranda Richardson, Joan Plowright, Vanessa Redgrave and Aussie Judy Davis. Well, she did, and deservedly so. Fast-forward to 2008: add a stellar history of character performances, to which her performance in The Wrestler is an honorable addition, plus her willingness to get naked (and get noticed for it by no less than the Los Angeles Times), and suddenly Marisa Tomei starts to look like a contender. I think she’ll walk away with her second Oscar in this category tomorrow night.

Best Actor: I think this is more of a race than the conventional wisdom might suggest. Despite their individual pedigrees, I don’t think Langella or Pitt are factors here; Jenkins perhaps a sliver more so simply because he is so universally well-liked and respected. But despite his coronation under the tent in Santa Monica this afternoon, I don’t think Mickey Rourke’s ascendence to the Oscar stage is a given, as much for his ridiculous refusal to let go of his pretense at wrestling reality as for the clichés of the movie itself. Rourke is certainly the best reason to see The Wrestler, but it’s not a transcendent performance. I think more people think Sean Penn’s work in Milk is, and therefore I think he’ll be the one accepting the statue.

UPDATE: This just in from Larry Aydlette: Mickey Rourke's salty and spectacular acceptance speech for Best Actor honors at the IFP Awards yesterday afternoon. Rourke really cuts loose here, but in a genuinely moving, edge-of-your-seat unpredictable fashion, and he begins by demanding that Hollywood start paying attention to Eric Roberts again... Thanks, L.A.! (Larry will be live blogging the Oscars, and he always has terrific in-the-moment observations, so if you're nearby a computer tonight you'd be doubling your pleasure to keep up with him!)

Best Actress: Melissa Leo can grimace like nobody’s business, and she crafts an entire performance out of one-note sobriety and gritty trailer-park nobility in Frozen River. It won her the Independent Spirit award for Best Actress, and it’s remarkably of a piece with a list of glum, cosmetic-free appearances that, to this eye at least, don’t seem to be very distinguishable, one from the other, the kind that often get mistaken for serious acting. She’s willing to look worn-out and weary, and that goes a long way for some voters. Better Leo than Angelina Jolie, however; Jolie’s high-school-play-level histrionics, mixed in with her otherwise monotonously saintly portrait of a mother abused, in Changeling were just shy of embarrassing, certainly not worthy of awards or of this otherwise accomplished actress. So scratch those two, or maybe after Leo’s win today you leave her in the mix. However you approach it, this category shapes up as being perhaps even more difficult to call than the Best Supporting Actress race. There are good cases to be made for the Academy wanting to make a historic splash and anoint Meryl Streep a winner after her record-setting 15th nomination and backing a slightly-less-dark indie colt like Anne Hathaway, who gave a performance whose quality was less debated than the merits of the love-it-or-hate-it movie in which she starred. But the fact that this is Kate Winslet’s sixth nomination, all before she turns 35 (another Academy record), in a movie that deals, however tangentially, with the Holocaust (an Oscar imprimatur of seriousness), and that she spends a copious amount of time in the nude (perhaps more so than even Ms. Tomei) adds up to an itch that Oscar won’t be able to help but scratch. I think you’re relatively safe betting any of the last three, and Kate Winslet, while not a lock, does seem like the surest thing. Therefore I pick Meryl Streep.

Best Director and Best Picture: Rarely do the five nominees for Best Picture find all five of their respective directors similarly nominated, but it has happened this year and I think that is as good an indicator as any that the vote between the two categories will not split this year. Based on this non-split theory, I think the only reasonable choice, if it’s money you want to make Sunday night, is Danny Boyle and Slumdog Millionaire. Don’t be seduced by Benjamin Button’s 13 nominations— we are not talking The Return of the King here. Button is a movie that lots of people saw that failed to emotionally justify its epic length and life-story ambitions which will win only in some of the technical categories, where its real success (such as it is) lies. Nor is the movie the strongest of David Fincher’s work; the silver lining of his nomination here is that he seems to be quite unlike the kind of director who will go further fishing for the Academy’s approval and turn away from the kind of clear-headed, tough-minded films for which he is better known. Ron Howard’s
Frost/Nixon is creditable and entertaining, but doesn’t seem to have a very passionate following, and The Reader, beyond Kate Winslet’s nomination, seems generally recognized as standard-issue Weinstein-approved Oscar bait. (It is amazing to consider that Stephen Daldry, director of The Reader, has made exactly three movies and all three-- this, The Hours and Billy Elliot-- have netted him nominations in the directing category—a piece of Oscar history reserved for the most nondescript of candidates.) So Milk would seem to be the only nominee to have a fighting chance against the Slumdog tsunami. But as much sentiment as may be behind the movie in the wake of the passage of Prop 8 in California, and as much as it is recognized as a brilliant acting showcase for its entire ensemble, it is also perceived as fairly conventional, less for its status as a biopic than as a Gus Van Sant movie, and there seems to be little heat behind his nomination. So unless the director/picture categories do indeed split, it seems that the old-fashioned, fable-grounded virtues of Slumdog Millionaire, wrapped as it is in the heart-stopping pyrotechnics of Danny Boyle’s relentlessly assured style, will be the movie to beat in both of these major categories.


Best of luck to all of you in your Oscar viewing tomorrow night—the over/under on me falling asleep in my chair, to the dismay, or perhaps mean-spirited delight of my Oscar party guests, is 6:15 p.m. This year, of all years, I can’t wait to forget who won in all the major categories on my way toward hoping for a more interesting show next year. Let’s hope that Jerry Lewis jolts us all out of our pizza-and-hot-wings-induced complacency and that Hugh Jackman can figure out how to keep us awake enough to follow out our ballots as the show goes along.



A bit of pre-Oscar levity (what else is there left to do but laugh?) courtesy of DHReck: the 2008 Best Picture Profanity Reel!


Friday, February 20, 2009


As we get closer to Oscar night, more Muriel Award updates:

Happily, Rachel Getting Married’s Jonathan Demme takes the award for best director…

(Here’s a link to Demme and screenwriter Jenny Lumet interviewed by David Poland of The Hot Blog.)


Paul gathers up some thoughts on some of the Muriel voters’ 2008 also-rans: “Although this year’s winners had a lot of support from our voters (duh), they were hardly the only nominees who elicited passion amongst the voting body. So, like last year, I asked some of the voters to write about cinematic achievements from 2008 that got them particularly excited.” That as an intro to fine write-ups on Roger Deakins, Charlie and Lloyd Kaufman, and Theo Panayides’ Theo’s Century of Movies.

Then there’s the year’s Best Cinematic Moment (with clips!) And a Muriels good-bye to some notable screen presences who may fly under the Oscar obituary montage radar on their way to movie heaven-- ”Gone, but Not Forgotten.”

Finally, one who is gone but unlikely to be forgotten on Oscar night is one Heath Ledger, whose performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight may win him a posthumous Oscar, but has already won him Muriel laurels for Best Supporting Performance (Male).

There are three more days of Muriel Voting to be revealed, including the winners for Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Picture, so stay tuned. (I’ll have some words on one of the best pictures of the year on Paul’s site this weekend, and I’ll be sure to let you know when that shows up.)


And speaking of Oscars, the gauntlet has been thrown down and wrapped up at Nathaniel R.’s Film Experience Oscar Symposium, where a host of sharp, smart bloggers have been gathered under Nathaniel’s welcoming roof to wax fast and funny on this year’s ceremonies. I was honored to participate on the panel last year, along with cine-pal Kim Morgan, and this year’s slate is almost all-new to the Film Experience experience-- Timothy Brayton, Ed Gonzalez (the one FEOS veteran), Karina Longworth, Erik Lundegaard and Kris Tapley. Print it all out and read it voraciously before you sit down for the Independent Spirit Awards or, oh, yeah, the Oscars.


Finally, its level of taste is debatable, but the august fellowship at Defamer has come up with a new wrinkle to liven up your Oscar party—the In Memoriam Oscar Montage Pool. Here are a couple of sample categories:

Will Open the Montage
Charles H. Joffe (+5)
Stan Winston (+10)
Harold Pinter (+15)
Isaac Hayes (+20)
None of the above (+5)

Will End the Montage
Paul Newman (+5)
Charlton Heston (+5)
Sydney Pollack (+10)
Anthony Minghella (+20)
None of the above (Automatic win)

Others include “Will Get Montage’s First Audio Clip,” “First Actress Named” and “First International Auteur Named.” Sounds like a sure way to burst the bubble of the one guaranteed moment of emotion the Oscars will have in store. Have fun, you morbid bastards.


And if all this doesn't scratch that Oscar itch hard enough, David Hudson has all the Oscar links youll ever need, and then some, at his spiffy new IFC Daily digs. And the Oscar goes to...


Thursday, February 19, 2009


In this week given over to everything Oscar (even the charting of the history of nudity in the careers of two of this year’s nominated actresses), SLIFR would like to take a moment to remember the little people, the way-below-the-liners devoted to making sure that all the high-profile nominees, from actors to directors and producers and, perhaps most of all, the studio suits who facilitate (and sometimes inhibit) their every artistic move, get the right tables booked and are supplied with a constant flow of double chai whip slo-jack mocha crème whizzachinos. We speak, of course, of the ambitious, yet perpetually lowly Hollywood assistant. These overworked minions, who will likely be in charge of dusting and polishing the statues of the Oscar winners who provide them not-so-steady employment, as well as a constant, tantalizing glimpse at the carrot of Tinseltown glamour that keeps so many of them pressing on, are in dire need of a shard of the spotlight. And this week, when all eyes are on Kate and Brad and Angelina and Werner (that’s Herzog to you, Us Weekly subscriber), the sketch comedians that make up Back of the Class have constructed a hip-hop-tastic tribute to these denizens of the underbelly of every studio commissary, mail room and B-level Sunset Strip premiere party. If you thought the Michael Bolton character in Office Space was tha bomb, chances are you’ll find the hotshots of Hollywood Assistant as hilarious as I did. Bottom line: Any comedy piece that finds a way to link “Toblerone” and “Stallone” (among seemingly thousands of other killa rhymz) is the shizzle in my book, yo. Behold.

Hollywood ASST from Back of the Class on Vimeo.

(Mad props to Andrew Blackwood of Cahiers2Cinema for directing me to this gem.)


Monday, February 16, 2009


UPDATED February 16 11:59 p.m.

Sans a meaty religious/moral dilemma, a grim human trafficking situation, the opportunity for self-righteous indignation over the bungled treatment of the case of a missing child, or facing the consequences of one’s responsibility for involvement in the Holocaust, what’s a brilliantly talented comic actress to do? Get overlooked for all the major year-end awards, including Oscar, that’s what. In a perfect world, one in which the academy supposedly devoted to excellence in motion pictures, but which routinely ignores genius-level comic performances or finds a way to ghettoize them in supporting role categories, actually acknowledged the age-old dictum that comedy is hard, Angelina or Melissa would have been kicked to the curb to make room for Anna Faris's hilarious sunburst performance in The House Bunny. Faris is utterly winning as Shelley Darlingson, a Playboy bunny apparently booted from the Mansion for being too old who pulls herself up by her pump straps and gets a job as a house mother for a dweeby sorority (populated, among others, by Superbad’s Emma Stone and Nick and Norah’s Kat Dennings). She teaches them self-confidence and self-esteem, and they teach her that she doesn’t have to use sex to assert her personality or her intelligence. The formula is well-worn (the movie is, after all, from the folks who gave you Legally Blonde), but Faris’ pure incandescence transcends the limitations of the plot; she makes every scene she’s in feel like it’s something brand-new through a combination of brilliant timing, vocal mannerisms, physical grace (and its opposite, cannily choreographed clumsiness) and pure movie star charm.

Until you can run out and rent the DVD, here's the trailer for The House Bunny

It is not Faris's, or Shelley’s, aim to simply fly in the face of political correctness, but to counter those predisposed to write Shelley off as a hopeless dope with evidence of the humanity underneath the pratfalls and misguided attempts at romance. If AMPAS wasn’t so determined to write off terrific comic performances as somehow less important than Big Mac Oscar bait the likes of which Meryl and Kate are serving up this year, there might be room for recognizing just how good Anna Faris is, in movie after movie, since her inauspicious start in the Scary Movie series. But so be it-- Carole Lombard got one Oscar nomination (for My Man Godfrey), but she’s no less beloved for that. Faris would be lucky to find the right part at the right time for a similar honor. But for now, if the red-band trailer for the upcoming Observe and Report (directed by The Foot Fist Way’s Jody Hill) is any indication, she’s poised to steal a movie right out from underneath it-boy Seth Rogen’s soiled sneakers with another wild comic turn unlikely to light up Oscar’s radar, however wonderful it may turn out to be. If you’re looking to do some Oscar catch-up this week and can't make it out to The Reader or Doubt, and there’s no copies of Changeling or Frozen River to be found at your local Blockbuster, do yourself a favor—have some fun with a performance every bit the equal of any of those (and in the case of Jolie, clearly the better), rent The House Bunny, and in between hearty laughs just imagine what Faris’ acceptance speech would have been like. Someday maybe we won’t have to imagine, but Oscar or not, we've still got Shelley.

Here's Faris and Rogen et al in the red-band trailer for the upcoming Observe and Report. Beware, there be nasty language herein.


UPDATE: In a downright eerie coincidence, Paul Matwychuk posted this entry on his blog The Moviegoer mere hours before my own affirmation of Anna Faris's talents. In "Anna Faris for Best Actress!" he lists the most undesreved actual nominee, the most obvious snub and the "In Our Dreams" perfect nominee in five major categories, and I think he's 100% right on every call. I especially relate to his indifference for Benjamin Button and his enthusiasm for Brad Pitt instead in Burn After Reading, or Jane Lynch in Role Models, or David Straithairn in My Blueberry Nights. If I'd just woken up, I might be convinced that I wrote this piece myself, so aligned is it with my own point of view. Do check it out as part of your Oscar Week enjoyment, and once again, all hail Anna Faris!



Paul Clark has been posting daily updates on The Muriel Awards, and if you haven’t been clicking the button on the sidebar to your right and keeping up that way, let me get you up to date very quickly:

Best Screenplay: Synecdoche, New York

Best Ensemble Performance: Rachel Getting Married

Best Music: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard for The Dark Knight

Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister for The Dark Knight

Best Body of Work 2008: Robert Downey Jr.

Best Cinematic Breakthrough: Martin McDonagh, writer-director of In Bruges

Best Film-related Web Site: The House Next Door

10th Anniversary Award for Best Picture 1998: Rushmore

25th Anniversary Award for Best Film 1983: The King of Comedy

50th Anniversary Award for Best Film 1958: Vertigo

That brings us to the first major category of the week leading up to the big reveal of the Muriel Award winner for Best Picture, which is timed to overshadow the presentation of the Oscars themselves this coming Sunday. I am a proud Muriel voter, but so far my picks haven’t been doing all that well (you can click on the links above to see a list of all the movies that were nominated in each category; most of the ones I voted for are consigned to the box of films that garnered one vote each). But today, finally, my favorite won—Rosemarie DeWitt for Best Supporting Performance (Female) in Rachel Getting Married. Coincidentally, Paul asked me to contribute a piece on De Witt’s performance. Here’s a taste:

“De Witt miraculously cruises avenues of empathy for a character who could easily be drawn as shrewish and insensitive; she makes us understand Rachel’s point of view and effortlessly creates a forceful characterization which protects that point of view, never letting it get buried for us as viewers the way it did for the rest of the family when Kym’s personal hell first enveloped them all. She tempers her character’s own narcissism and barely suppressed histrionics with a desire to maintain composure, as if that effort is the only thing preventing a complete collapse in the family dynamic, and yet somehow she never becomes strident or self-righteous. Rachel finally explodes when a series of lies told by Kym in the past are revealed, and here De Witt’s laser-sharp instincts for modulation allow her to display a rather awesome sense of control; her seething anger seems precisely right, yet never calculated, as if it were being exposed, to us, and to her, for the first time.

You can read the rest of my appreciation of De Witt’s performance, and check out the rankings of the other voters, by clicking here to visit the Muriel Awards at Silly Hats Only.

EXTRA ADDED BONUS: Here's a link to a terrific interview Rosemarie De Witt did with David Poland a few weeks back.



I've said nary a word about it up till now, but since I innocently drove through Hollywood yesterday and fell victim to the traffic nightmmare caused by Oscar preparations already begun at the Kodak Theater on Hollywwood and Highland, I feel now is the right time to finally, in my own small way, offer some indulgences, some nods toward the subject of Oscar, though hopefully not in an entirely tedious fashion. Let's get the party started right with film critic Stephen Colbert's Oscar commentary:

Thanks to Psaga for the tip!


Saturday, February 14, 2009


There’s more good cinematography in this one shot from the new Friday the 13th than in the first eight Jason movies combined.

As the esteemed film critic Jimmy Page once noted, the song remains the same, and that’s certainly the case with the “new” and slightly improved Friday the 13th. If ever there was a film franchise beholden to formula it’s this one. The rubber-stamped elements of a Jason movie put surefire repeaters like James Bond or Inspector Clouseau or even Rocky Balboa to shame, so ingrained and inevitable are the pieces of the puzzle that slam into place like shoddy clockwork from film to film. The 2009 mix puts a bit more emphasis on the gore than did the last few episodes that I saw, and it takes full advantage of CGI enhancements to purge the money shots of those annoying cutaways to a meat cleaver buried in an obviously rubber brainpan. There seems to be a smidgen more sex in this one, of the post-porn Girls Gone Wild variety, than I recall from the series’ glory days as well. Obnoxious college punks? Check, check, check, check, check, check, check. Exceptionally obnoxious college punk set up for ostentatiously gruesome kill because he’s so exceptionally obnoxious? Check. Not one, but two final girls, so there’s a bit of added “suspense” as to which one will unexpectedly get skewered at the last minute? Check. Relentless, unkillable killer who makes “unexpected” shock reappearance just before awesome shock-cut to end credits? Check. Good night, everybody, and thanks for coming!

The gore is splashy but not particularly imaginative, and only one kill got a laugh from me not so much for audacity but for actually catching me off-guard. (To describe it would sap the one genuine surprise the movie has up its tattered sleeve). But the new Friday the 13th keeps things moving along and adds a bit of cheapjack mommy psychology to spice up the hunt-hunt-hunt-hunt-kill-kill-kill-kill mechanics as the movie lurches to its foregone conclusion. The wonder is that even though every single scare is of the dog/funny stoner/masked psycho-jumping-out-at-you-from-nowhere (accompanied by amplified musical sting, or scream, or stabbing sound effect) variety, the movie is so much more accomplished on a simple technical level than any of its predecessors that, despite its slavish faithfulness to the tired (not a typo) and true Jason formula it ends up, through the sheer magic of competent pacing and high-quality cinematography, seeming like a masterpiece, if not of the horror genre, then at least of the Jason genre.

The opening-night audience I saw it with seemed determined to have a good time, screaming (and faux screaming) in all the right places, so I suspect the movie will satisfy the average Voorhees mythologist and date-movie connoisseur, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this picture spawns another two or three chapters of its own. Director Marcus Nispel does toy with using the frame to gradually reveal Jason and create suspense in his some of his set-ups, but he doesn’t have a lot of patience for coloring outside the lines and almost always retreats to standard “gotcha” gimmickry instead. If the subsequent directors of the probably inevitable sequels followed through on this impulse and explored new ways of generating scares, then the Jason Voorhees line might actually start to get a little more interesting. But the question is, at this late date, by varying the blueprint would the end result still be a Friday the 13th movie?

Friday, February 13, 2009


UPDATED FEBRUARY 14, 9:45 p.m.

What is there left to say about Jason Voorhees and the whole phenomenon that is the Friday the 13th series? Yes, it was the first real volley of ‘80s movies to exploit the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween and initiate not only a formulaic franchise of its own but also an entire teen slasher genre, usually centered around one minor holiday or another. But what was there ever to say, really? Carpenter’s movie injected a gliding style and a sense of film ancestry into the antics of relentless killer Michael Meyers (allusions to Vincente Minnelli and Howard Hawks were there to be mined by filmheads who thought it more than the average horror movie back in 1978, not to mention similarities to Bob Clark’s 1974 hit Black Christmas). But the Friday the 13th movies, starting from the first chapter all the way through Jason X (aka Friday the 13th Part 10, in which Jason gets shot into space, perhaps to wreak vengeance in the name of all those monkeys that were sacrificed by NASA) were never more than clunky retreads done on the cheap, minus any sense of film craft or even a single genuine scare that didn’t rely entirely on obvious “Boo!” tactics. (Ronny Yu’s Freddy vs. Jason, an absurd fantasia pitting Jason against good ol’ razor-digit Freddy Krueger of the almost equally endless Nightmare on Elm Street series, finally brought style and fun, if not exactly substance, to the Voorhees line.)

The newest chapter in the Jason story, director Marcus Nispel’s remake/reimagining/reboot/rehash/what-have-you titled, simply, Friday the 13th has not exactly been getting glowing reviews, but at least Paramount Pictures isn’t hiding the movie from critics this time out, and not surprisingly it’s being reviewed largely in comparison to the memory, if not the actual achievement, of the original movies. It seems that many of those who are not particularly kind to the new movie have taken a rosier view of what those original movies were actually like to watch, one dispiriting sequel after another. Mark Olsen, in his review of the new movie in this morning's Los Angeles Times, compares old school Jason to this apparently slicker, louder version:

“The original handful of Friday films had a certain low-rent elegance about them, and this slickly done, dimly lighted, whiplash-edited update loses that too. Not fun, louder than it is scary, not even all that gory, this new Friday the 13th has Jason, all right, but otherwise it's missing nearly everything that made the original films work.

Portrait of Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) courtesy of Chris Walsh Autographs)

Speaking as someone who saw the first eight of the Friday the 13th movies theatrically, I would challenge both the claim of low-rent elegance and that the movies “worked” in any way other than as generators of dread (which is far different from suspense), or perhaps as showcases for the latest in splashy gore. This kind of 20/20 hindsight recognizes that the movies were low-rent, all right, but that's not necessarily a plus here. Director Sean Cunningham and the subsequent helmers brought out to perpetuate the legend of Camp Crystal Lake were never agile or thoughtful about what to do with the camera or how to shape a scene. There seemed to be implicit in the whole Friday the 13th template a disdain for the kind of “low-rent elegance” that propelled, say, the films of Larry Cohen, or some of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures product, or the early grindhouse-oriented work of Jack Hill or even David Cronenberg. Cunningham and company didn’t know what to do with the camera, and they didn’t care that they didn’t know. Their movies were simple delivery systems for what had, in the shadow of Halloween, become a very simple formula—sex and nudity, boorish, dumb behavior on the part of the teens set up for the slaughter, and the inevitable, often painfully illogical appearances (and reappearances) of Jason, the unstoppable killer. The movies only “worked” if what you want from a thriller are just these simple elements and you derive pleasure from waiting for someone to unexpectedly jump through a window or a meat cleaver to come out of the shadows and get buried in some nubile camp counselor’s skull. (That’s dread, in my book. Suspense would be seeing Jason in the shadows and waiting to see how, and if, the NCC could get out of the room alive.) The Friday movies always skimped on the kind of style that generates suspense. What’s really annoying is that, after starting out as a sort of showcase for the talents of makeup artists like Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead) and John Carl Buechler (director of Part 7), even the gore started to dry up around the fourth movie. The third picture (released in 3D) had some memorable kills—eyeballs shooting out into the laps and popcorn bags of eager viewers, a crossbow fired into the audience, and most memorable a happy jokester cleaved in two, length-wise, while walking on his hands—but that was apparently a watershed for the series. After that the splatter, which is where what little imagination on display from the first film on was always deposited, began to become increasingly scarce. Films 4-8 (I didn’t see 9 or 10) were dispiritingly dry and choppy (from an editing standpoint) affairs, playing more on sound effects and last-minute cutaways before the payoff, so whatever interest was still there drifted away.

At least for this habitual viewer. I chalk my sustained interest in les affaires de Jason up to nostalgia (I groaned through the first two with my best friend Bruce during college) and boredom, as well as the silly hope that this time maybe the movie would be as good as the 30-second radio ad. Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed the 3D effects of Part 3, even as I realized how dumb the movie was. (This is a very similar reaction to the one I had last month watching My Bloody Valentine 3D, which was least more of an actual sequel than a remake of the minor 1985 Halloween/Friday the 13th knockoff of the same name. The 3D there, as it was for the third Jason pic, is the best of its kind, but the new movie is still silly as hell and quite a lot dependent on people doing dumb things, as well as filmmakers not playing fair with their slasher version of Three Card Monte.) And I had a personal connection that compelled me to see Part 7-- the movie featured the charming up-and-coming scream queen Elizabeth Kaitan, a friend of my best friend’s wife whom I met on several occasions when I first moved to Los Angeles. (She ends up getting thrown out a second-floor window, as I recall.) Friday the 13th Part VII also featured, all things being relative, the most clever kill of the entire series—Jason stumbles upon a group of campers, and when one decides to hide in his sleeping bag Our Hero picks up the bag with the victim inside and swings it like a very large sack of potatoes against the trunk of a large tree. Splat. Seven movies is a long haul to trudge for such few “pleasures” as these.

But, after taking a break from parts 9 and 10, and not at all expecting the hallucinatory jolts and genuine fun of Freddy vs. Jason, I will make my way this weekend back to Camp Crystal Lake for the “new” version, which, according to Olsen, is basically a mishmash of three or so different Friday the 13th films (though telling them apart these days is a talent I’m not sure I still possess). It’s still habit, I guess, though my hope that they’ll get it right this time is almost as nonexistent as the Jason series’ credentials as film art, or even as an upstanding member of the horror genre. My personal connections still remain, however. There are hopes that the recent financial success of movies like My Bloody Valentine 3D, and perhaps this new Jason epic, will kick-start plans for a proposed new chapter in another horror franchise helmed by a good friend, one which I have every reason to believe will provide ample justification, beyond the lure of big box-office receipts, for its existence. That’s a good reason for me to plunk down my $10 (student discount) and hope for the best.

But today is also my best friend Bruce’s birthday. He turns the big 5-0 on this Friday the 13th, and though I can’t be with him to celebrate this momentous event I’d like to think that by taking in the new Friday the 13th movie this evening I’ll somehow be forging a connection to him through the memory of a slew of terrible kill movies that we enjoyed for so many years, not because the movies themselves were ever much good, but because of the fun we generated for ourselves, as horror film aficionados and fans, by watching them together. Happy birthday, Bruce. May your day be not accompanied by the strains of the familiar screeches composed by musician Harry Manfredini for the Friday the 13th series (“Hunt-hunt-hunt-hunt… Kill-kill-kill-kill…”) but by Bernard Hermmann and John Williams and all the other greats who have provided orchestral accompaniment for all the nifty scares we’ve shared together in our 31-year past. And here’s hoping that, this time out, there’s one genuinely earned shiver in this latest in an apparently undead series of horror films, one that might take a stab at repairing the reputation of the slasher film or at least providing a good time for those of us who still find reason to attend.

(The good folks at Movie Geeks United have found plenty to say about the Friday the 13th series. You can listen to or download their celebratory podcast, packed as it is with interviews from lots of key players in the series, including Betsy Palmer, by clicking here.)

UPDATE: You can read my review of the new Friday the 13th movie by either scrolling up to the next post or by clicking here.


Thursday, February 12, 2009


I had occasion this morning to update the post on my answers to the Professor Kingsfield Quiz with a very special picture, special enough that I wanted to redirect you back to take a look at it. When I wrote the answer to question #15, “Who is the one person, living or dead, famous or unknown, who most informed or encouraged your appreciation of movies?” I didn’t yet have a good picture of my paternal grandmother, Rina Trevisan Cozzalio, to go along with the post. Well, my aunt RaNae, Rina’s daughter and the official genealogist and family historian, dug back into the archives and came up with a real beauty-- a portrait of Grandma Rina at age 18, accompanied by an inset shot of her from three years earlier (where she looks very much like RaNae). Go back and take a look, won't you?

RaNae was also kind enough to send along the shot you see above, taken in 1961, of Grandma Rina standing in the garden of her modest home in Lakeview, Oregon, holding her first grandson (that'd be me) and looking pretty proud. This is the way I remember my grandma, and seeing the picture makes it very easy to remember what it felt like when she would hold me as a toddler and a little boy—she did so often, and she never let go past a chance to show me or any of her grandkids just how much she loved us. And even though she’s been dead for over 23 years now, Grandma Rina made such an impression on me that I still find it hard to fathom that she’s really gone, that when I return for a visit to my hometown I won’t be able to go by her house and show off my own beautiful daughters—her great-great grandchildren—to her and have her dote on them and smother them with unconditional love the way she did with me. Grandma Rina not only shaped my love for the movies, she shaped my outlook on life, which is probably why I can still sense her presence and why she remains so important to me. Her love of the movies qualifies her, along with a certain barrel-shaped Italian director who passed away not quite four years after she did, for patron saint status here at SLIFR. But her hard work and deep and abiding love for me and all of her family qualifies her for sainthood, period. Tonight my grandma and I will watch James Cagney in White Heat together, and I know I’ll think afterward about how much less I would have enjoyed it were it not for her.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Upon its release last November David Ansen wrote of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, “If we must have teen movies, let them all be as sweet and seductive as (director Peter) Sollett’s smartly observed romance.” Ever since the heyday of Deanna Durbin and the Andy Hardy series featuring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland (beginning in the late ‘30s) teens have been a presence in movies, if not as much on-screen during the Durbin/Hardy era, then certainly as a force at the box office. In the 1950s filmmakers, particularly exploitation filmmakers, filled drive-in double features with teenaged stars, rock and roll and, as often as not, a bug-eyed, seaweed–encrusted monster to throw into the mix as well. And so it was until the John Hughes era, which made (however briefly) marketable stars out of the likes of Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald and signaled the final phase in the juvenilization of the movies that had begun in earnest in the summer of 1977—now not only was Hollywood blatantly catering to the youth market, they had begun casting and making stars out of actors that were, for once, not visibly 10-20 years too old for their teenaged roles as well. So yes, Mr. Ansen, we apparently must have teen movies, just like we did when you and I were both of that age. But you're right-- damn few of them, it seems, have ever been, well, as sweet and seductive, as downright delicate at times, as is Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.

The movie opens on Nick (Superbad’s Michael Cera), bassist for a gay punk band called the Jerk-Offs, as he broods over the loss of his sexy/bitchy girlfriend Tris, who has dumped him in favor of a far more conventionally pretty jock type. Nick compulsively, incessantly sends mix CDs to Tris even after the breakup, mixes meant to signal to the audience his reverence for music and his edgy tastes as much as to provide artistic evidence of his bottomless yearning and anguish for his ex-girlfriend. Tris, however, doesn’t connect to the intentions of the CDs or, it seems, to Nick’s musical preferences. She blithely tosses them in the trash where they are immediately retrieved by a classmate, Nora (Kat Dennings), who wonders aloud why Tris would be so dismissive of someone whose taste in music is so unimpeachable, so much like Nora’s own. A night out to see Nick’s band at an East Village club provides the set-up for Nick and Nora’s inevitable meeting (though she is not immediately aware that he’s the compiler of Tris’s rejected CD collection), and the two eventually set out, with Nick’s bandmates and Nora’s increasingly inebriated pal Caroline (the wonderful Ari Graynor) in tow, in pursuit of the mystery location of a favorite band’s secret performance, all the while Nick’s pals settle into the role of matchmakers for the two hetero leads who seem so obviously suited to each other.

There is little suspense generated over whether or not Nick and Nora will eventually realize the degree to which they are mutually attracted, but then in a movie like this it’s almost always more about the journey to discovery than what happens when the couple in question finally gets there, and when that journey is rendered with the kind of believable, character-driven humor in evidence here audiences tend to forgive the obviousness of the narrative trajectory more easily than when they’re beaten into submission, as in, say, the average Kate Hudson-Matthew McConaughey rom-com. Michael Cera does romantic insecurity mixed with quizzical self-confidence better than anyone, no matter what age, so it’s a delight to see him, even if you might tend to wonder how many more of these kinds of roles he has in him before he becomes a Michael Cera type. The real happy surprises come from Graynor, who takes giddy drunkness to new heights—though she’s given the movie’s most uncharacteristically gross running gag surrounding the fate of an uber-resilient piece of chewing gum which goes to some awful places (think Trainspotting) and trades cuds with horrifying casualness—and, best of all, Kat Dennings’ Nora. Dennings' heavy-lidded, genial sexiness and apparently natural generosity as an actress—she seems alive to her initial conversations with Nick in a way that escapes more self-conscious young actors—accentuates her attractiveness, to Nick and to us and solidifies her status as an identifiable person rather than just another Ringwald-esque teen-movie stereotype. (It has been commented upon before that the movie notes with pleasing casualness Nora's Judaism and the rare quality of that religious/ethnic identification as being linked with on-screen sex appeal. In fact, a key moment of connection between the characters near the end of the film is set in motion by Nick's offhand reaction to an observation Nora makes about her religion.)

Fortunately, Sollett (the writer-director of 2002's Raising Victor Vargas) understands the value of not pushing his leads at a pace beyond their own natural ease, a sensitivity that coaxes a mix of sharp wit, edgy intelligence and a slightly decelerated approach to timing from Cera and Dennings that reads as comfort even when Nick and Nora are first getting to know one another, and Dennings, even more so than the relatively more familiar Cera, is the on-screen beneficiary. We want him to be with her so we can get to know her better, and the gentleness of their discovery of how much they enjoy each other’s company is a real treat. Nick and Nora has none of the aggressiveness or the jittery, mean-spirited cacophony of more typical teen fare. It’s also the anti-Juno, in that its characters are smart and articulate, but they’re not smart-asses all pitched at exactly the same degree of smug one-upsmanship and clever quipsterism. It’s a tribute to everyone involved—Sollett, Dennings and Cera, and the film’s screenwriter, Lorene Scafaria (from Rachel Cohn’s novel)—that when we find out why Nora seems to have such easy access to so many clubs around town the revelation successfully expands the character and the film’s central relationship rather than simply coming off as a cheap plot device. The movie makes a breezy style out of avoiding all the traps that far lesser movies (especially ones that win Oscars for their ostentatiously quirky screenplays) dive into head-first.

As Nick and Nora head toward the sun rising on their madcap night in pursuit of music and love you may wonder about that allusion conjured in the title to another kind of screwball movie romance from a bygone era. (You may also happily observe that this is the second terrific Michael Cera-starring comedy in as many years to end so sweetly on a moving escalator.) No, in terms of this modern-day comedy the ghosts of William Powell and Myrna Loy do not come into play, nor do the movies of The Thin Man series have any relevance here beyond a clever reference that will be meaningless to all but the most unusual of teens, ones even more unusual than the leads in this movie. The names just sound good together, as do Kat Dennings and Michael Cera and the happy melodies they make in tandem during this light, funny, and often lovely little movie.


At the end of a previous SLIFR professorial quiz the question was asked, "Is there a movie you love to the degree that should you discover it was not equally revered by your romantic partner you might reconsider the relationship?" Nick and Nora is, among other things, built around two kids for whom musical taste carries that kind of significance-- the presence of certain bands, and the exclusion of others, are signifiers of compatibility, of soul-mate status. What other movies do you think do justice, as I think this one does, to the experience of being a teenager in love, that best incorporates the importance of pop culture and defining one's own response to it as a character trait that might open, or keep closed, the door to romance?


Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist is now available on DVD and Blu-ray, and I heartily recommend you seek it out.


Friday, February 06, 2009


The desert of Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly comes to eerie life in this animated short created entirely in sand.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

(Thanks to Polly Staffle and for the tip.)


Do you know this guinea pig? She’s Muriel, the official mascot of (HYPERBOLE ALERT!) the online community’s most prestigious annual award, The Muriel Awards, organized and hosted by Paul Clark, he of The Screengrab and, of course, his own home turf, Silly Hats Only, from whence the Muriels originated three years ago. This will be my third year of having the honor of being among the voters, and this year the number has increased to nearly 40 excellent online film writers, each of whom contributed votes in 17 different categories, from Best Film to Best Cinematic Moment of 2009, to anniversary awards for the best films of 1998, 1983 and 1958. Each day Paul will be posting the winners in each category, along with short essays commissioned by some of the writers involved, leading up to Oscar Night, February 22. So don’t forget to check in each day for Muriel Awards updates—all you have to do is punch the Muriel Awards tab on the sidebar to your right. I’ll be posting my own ballot later on in the game, plus links to days on which Paul has asked me to write about a couple of specific awards (don’t ask; I ain’t tellin’).

It’s the 2008 Muriel Awards, and they commence today, so get prepared! It promises to be more fun, and certainly more all-over-the-map, than the Oscars could ever be.

Here's a sample of some of the fun Paul is having with Muriel-centric imagery over at Silly Hats Only.

Check his blog out for more examples of why this lovely little rodent really must be considered the lettuce-chomping epicenter of the cinematic world.