Oscar nominees

OK, folks, a difficult year but here are my predictions for the Oscar nominees in the major cateories. To be announced tomorrow morning!

“Into the Wild”
“Michael Clayton”
“No Country For Old Men”
“There Will Be Blood”

Paul Thomas Anderson, “There Will Be Blood”
Joel and Ethan Coen, “No Country For Old Men”
Tony Gilroy, “Michael Clayton”
Sean Penn, “Into the Wild”
Julian Schnabel, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”

George Clooney, “Michael Clayton”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “There Will Be Blood”
Johnny Depp, “Sweeney Todd”
Ryan Gosling, “Lars and the Real Girl”
Viggo Mortensen, “Eastern Promises”

Cate Blanchett, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”
Julie Christie, “Away From Her”
Marion Cotillard, “La Vie en Rose”
Angelina Jolie, “A Mighty Heart”
Ellen Page, “Juno”

Casey Affleck, “The Assassination of Jesse James…”
Javier Bardem, “No Country For Old Men”
Hal Holbrook, “Into the Wild”
Tom Wilkinson, “Michael Clayton”
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, “Charlie Wilson’s War”

Cate Blanchett, “I’m Not There”
Ruby Dee, “American Gangster”
Catherine Keener, “Into the Wild”
Amy Ryan, “Gone Baby Gone”
Tilda Swinton, “Michael Clayton”

“The Savages”
“Michael Clayton”
“Lars and the Real Girl”

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
“Into the Wild”
“No Country For Old Men”
“There Will Be Blood”

“The Simpsons Movie"


Happy Days

“Don’t overdo the bag,” says Winnie (Fiona Shaw), buried up to her waist in a pile of sand and rubble, possessing only a bag of simple objects – toothbrush, umbrella, pistol – with which to relieve the tedium of her constricted existence. Winnie is a master at rationing out her activities in order to create some semblance of variety in her life, a mastery matched by that of Shaw and director Deborah Warner in utilizing the limited theatrical resources bequeathed to them by Beckett during the first act of Happy Days, a transplant from London’s National Theatre now playing at BAM.

Winnie’s monologues are as rich as her possessions are economical and Shaw, her lilting Irish tones a perfect match for Beckett’s quotidian poetry, unpacks every bit of humor and pathos from within them. Shaw brings an almost impossible athleticism to this immobile role, emphasizing in lightning-quick succession Winnie’s hauteur and her vulnerability, her boldness and her fear. This Winnie is a determined winner, pluckily optimistic (or insanely delusional, take your pick) despite her desperate situation and the first act plays as a humanistic paean to man’s (or, in this case, woman’s) capacity to make bleakness bearable. In the shorter, more severe second half, with Winnie buried up to her neck, the production falters; Shaw, with only her expressive face in view, still evokes empathy, but the conception of Winnie’s brutish, subhuman husband (Tim Potter), who crawls out of his hole to share a final tableau, lacks assurance. At the production’s overly abrupt conclusion, one recognizes anew that none of us, even people as resourceful as Shaw, Warner, and Winnie, can fend off the inevitable blackness forever.



Man is Man

Does it really take a war for New York theater artists to remember Brecht? We hardly needed a reason to pay some attention to the 20th century’s greatest dramatist, and certainly not one as costly the debacle in Iraq. In any event, the current climate has inspired a new generation to try their hand at the “alienation effect,” including a group of recent NYU/Tisch students called the Elephant Brigade, who are performing Man is Man at HERE. Fetchingly dressed in an assortment of military fatigues, they make an attractive group but their aesthetic choices end up making Brecht look bad.

The story, set in a Kiplingesque colonial India, concerns the transformation of humble porter Galy Gay into a robotic killing machine. This production suffers under a philosophy that Dutch director Paul Bellerts calls “real time” acting. According to the program, this approach is based on “the presence of the actors as themselves,” which unfortunately means that the cast comes off looking like a bunch of really earnest kids, excited by their own experimentalism (like the use of live video projections and remote-controlled tanks). The play may argue that mechanized warfare has made individuals virtually interchangeable, but Brecht’s dramaturgy of gestus demands great physical specificity from the actors in order to make Galy’s transition meaningful. (Brecht reportedly envisioned one of his favorite comedians, Charlie Chaplin, in the role.) Natalie Kuhn, as Galy, and her castmates speak most of the play’s lines in “natural,” uninflected tones and walk nonchalantly around the stage as if posing for a low-key Gap ad. These young Brechtians have yet to discover the fierce artistic clarity required to make his plays truly effective; meanwhile, the rest of us have yet to discover how we can bring this maddening war to an end.



Doris to Darlene, a cautionary valentine

At its start, Jordan Harrison’s new play feels like an extended set of musical liner notes, exploring the journey of a stirring leitmotif (the Liebestod theme in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde) from 19th Century opera into the bubble gum pop music of a Sixties girl group. Harrison’s characters frequently speak in the third person, explaining their thoughts and actions to the audience, underlining the parallels that connect the play’s three storylines. One of them remarks that great art can make an audience member “lose their lunch”; while clever, the first half of Doris to Darlene noticeably lacks that visceral effect. Scenes between Wagner and mad King Ludwig II play mostly for Bavarian buffoonery, while the story of Doris, the eponymous pop singer, and the producer who makes her a star has little more depth than Dreamgirls.

As an explicator of music’s mystical power, Harrison is no match for Mr. Campani (Tom Nelis), the buttoned-up high school music teacher in the play’s contemporary storyline who once trained to sing opera and remains under its spell. As the story focuses in on Campani and his young would-be protégé, the third person narration drops out of the dialogue and Harrison finds new juice in the familiar dramatic dynamic of homoerotically charged mentorship between teacher and student. Though the Liebestod seems to have been played ad nauseum, Harrison, like any good soprano, has saved something for his finale; in its emotional concluding moments, this intellectually artful play finally sings.

*For more about the play, visit the Playwrights Horizons website.


Queens Boulevard (the musical)

Theater rarely conveys a vivid sense of place; unlike films, plays can’t be shot on location. Which makes it all the more impressive that Signature Theatre Company’s production of Queens Boulevard (the musical) actually feels like a walk down the play’s titular thoroughfare. Sure, Mimi Lien’s busy set is filled with tacky signage, vendors’ carts, and assorted ethnic knick-knacks, while the varied soundtrack mixes bhangra, Asian pop, and an assortment of other tunes from all over the global village. These carefully-observed details, however, combine to create an effect far removed from documentary realism. Davis McCallum’s frequently fun production, performed by a likeable multi-racial ensemble, defies naturalism to capture the essence of New York’s most diverse borough.

Theatrical collagist Mee typically works by reconfiguring classic works and other found sources, here using an Indian dance-drama about a bridegroom’s quest for a mystical flower to give his new wife. Mee and McCallum have gamely set out to imitate the ritual form of non-Western theater, giving precedence to dance, song, and picaresque storytelling. If only there were more ritual and less talk: our protagonist encounters a series of friends and neighbors who discourse with him (often at great length) about the meaning of love and the fabric of community. With its cheek-by-jowl juxtaposition of cultures, Queens offers Mee a brimming metaphor, but the repetitive episodes and speeches eventually succumb to the law of diminishing returns. Imagine walking down the street only to have every Tom, Dick, and Hrishikesh tell you what they think of your marriage; you'd be only too eager to get back home.

*The Signature Theatre Company, as is their wont, is devoting an entire season to the work of one playwright, Charles Mee. You can find out more about him.
**Mee's scripts are all in the public domain. He encourages people to produce and mess around with them.



The politically fraught romance between Alan and Dahna, an American Jew critical of Israeli policies and a Palestinian student activist, provides what amounts to a throughline in Jason Grote’s demanding new play. If the central characters sometimes seem sketchy, that may be deliberate: Grote’s main concern is the way that these lovers’ sense of their own identities is burdened, enveloped, indeed re-written by the stories that surround them. Framing narratives abound, generating one another like a never-ending set of Russian nesting dolls. An intrepid cast of six shift roles continuously, offering a prismatic portrait of Orientalism in its many guises, presided over by Scheherazade, the mother of all storytellers.

Director Ethan McSweeney, aided by Rachel Hauk’s inventive set design and a fluid soundscape provided by Lindsay Jones and DJ Arisa Sound, manages for the most part to make this impossibly complicated script stage-worthy. Though the play’s many truncated tales initially leave the audience (like Scheherazade’s listeners) hungry for closure, dazzling patterns of resonance slowly reveal themselves. Like Flaubert in the casbah of an Egyptian courtesan, Alan and Dahna have politically exoticized one another and their relationship breaks under the stress. The real excitement in 1001, however, comes from watching Grote construct a plot through transhistorical hyperlinks (it’s no wonder that one of his most effective scenes takes place in an Internet chatroom). While steeped in literary tradition, Grote’s structure captures a feeling of political and information vertigo unique to our globalized era. In a theatrical culture increasingly out of touch with contemporary life, that’s a story worth celebrating.

*Befitting its postmodern structure, 1001 has a pretty cool interactive website that riffs on the themes of the play.


new uses

Well, since my blog has fallen into disuse, I've decided to make it a place where I can post some thoughts about my recent theater-going. If you're in New York, you can stop by here to see what I think about some current shows. If you're not, then you can still get a glimpse of the interesting theatrical work going on in the city -- which has not been shut down by the Broadway stagehands strike!



It's a good thing no one reads this blog anymore, because this one could be a doozy.

I think I may have become a Mets fan. As anyone should be able to guess, I've always preferred the Mets to the Yankees -- I doubt there's any baseball fan from Boston who wouldn't say the same. The '86 series surely left its wounds, especially for fans older than myself, but the Mets have never been the bete noires for Bostonians that the Bronx Bombers have been. When I moved to New York, it was only natural that I would favor the team with the tacky blue and orange colors over the too-cool-for-school Yankees. Despite being a gay man, it makes no difference to me that the Yankees are renowned for their sartorial splendor, their impeccable pinstripes. Give me the Mets any day: with the holy trifecta of Beltran, Reyes, and Wright on the team, the Boys from Queens would win any beauty pageant that I was judging.

It's been a pleasant sensation this season to see the Yankees struggling, to hear a trembling note of real worry in the voices of fans and NY sprotswriters. Sure, the Yankees haven't won a series in while, but they've always been in the running. So far this year, though, they really suck, no question about it. And the Mets, conversely, are at the top of their game. This year they're the team you want to hear about.

I'm up in the Hudson Valley this week on a mini-vacation. As I ws strolling around the village of Cold Spring, I saw a Mets flag flying outside of someone's house and that aesthetically garish combination of blue and orange raised a feeling of pride in my heart. The other week, S. and I went to Shea to watch the Mets beat the Cubs, thanks to the benificence of S.'s brother "George," a much more authentic baseball fan than me but also one who supports Boston in the AL and the Mets in the NL. The three of us went last summer, too. In fact, the last few times I've been in a baseball stadium, I've been rooting for the Mets; they've started to feel like "my" team. So, after I saw that flag, I asked myself where my allegiance would lie in the (not that unlikely) event that the Red Sox and the Mets faced off this year in the World Series. It was at that moment that I realized how much of a New Yorker I've become.

My hands tremble as I type this. I'm not the first person who's compared Red Sox fandom to Roman Catholicism; the ethnic make-up of the Boston fan base only intensifies the analogy. Being a Red Sox fan, like being a Catholic, is the kind of thing you grow up on; it's inherited, with its own set of traditions, superstitions, anathemas, etc. That's what I've always loved about it. Gay man that I am, I have not a lot of patience for the nitty-gritty of sports, but the Red Sox' long quest for redemption was a drama I could get into. There was something mystical and redemptive about that amazing 2004 series, an alignment of the stars. Unfortunately, though, unlike one of Shakespeare's late romances, which end after the magically redemptive 5th Act, a baseball team's history doesn't stop after they finally win the World Series for the first time in 86 years. After winning the hearts of America as a scrappy gang of underdogs in 2004, the Sox have had to face the fact that, having finally won the series they were now... just like any other team.

It's been hard in recent years to feel the same sense of moral righteousness one used to feel about being a Red Sox fan. Their status as perennial underdogs, as the team that always almost made it, made rooting for the Sox seem like something worthy, a form of self-flagellation which would increase your spiritual purity. The Yankees won series after series and their fans repeatedly experiened the satisfaction of being told they were on top. Red Sox fans took pride in the fact that they remained steadfast in their devotion to the team, in the absence of any kind of satisfaction. Like the religion on which many of us Sox fans were raised, the Red Sox told us that our faith was greater for believing in what we had not seen. No doubting Thomases we. Can Sox fans feel that sanctimonious now? Hasn't the breaking of the curse revealed our team for what it is -- the second-highest paid team in baseball, one of two bullies who perennially dominate the AL League East? Sure, we are not owned by Darth Steinbrenner himself, but while the Yankees might be legitimately likened to Goliath, the Sox are armed with far more than a slingshot (unless they're selling slingshots for $103 millions dollars these days... maybe in Japan.??).

Today's Mets possess similarly attractive qualities to the Red Sox of yore. No matter how well they may play, no matter how many times they might beat the Yankees in a subway series, it's hard to imagine the Mets not seeming like the underdogs in the New York market. The Yankees have always owned New York, their logo is right there with the Empire State building in the pantheon of Big Apple icons. Perhaps because of that, the Yankees have always seemed to possess that air of entitlement which makes New Yorkers (or should I say Manhattanites) reviled by folks from smaller burgs. The Yankees may play in the Bronx but they've always seemed like the team of the elite. They are the Establishment.

The Mets, however, are the New New York, the New York of immigrants. Their fan base is built on the Caribbean and South American immigrants who live in the outer boroughs. They've got a Dominican manager (a rarity despite the fact that so many players these days are Spanish-speaking) and they've distinctly pitched their team to New York's growing Latino population. At a time when tourists to the city are now being officially encouraged to ride the subway out to Jackson Heights to experience the energy of its astounding ethnic diversity, it seems that more and more people are recognizing that New York is more than the island of Manhattan and that (thanks to prohibitive rents) most of the "real" New Yorkers are now living somewhere across the river. All of these cultural associations makes the Mets feel like the team of "the people" (as much as any group of millionaires can be considered proletarian). All of that, plus they're playing well. Is there any reason why I shouldn't be rooting for them?

One thing that automatically earns a New Yorker respect in my book is knowledge of the outer boroughs. I remember a time (embarrassingly, not that long ago) when I had to think long and hard before I could tell you whether a particular train was going to end up in Brooklyn or the Bronx. I'm still hardly an expert, but I've been out to the far reaches of most of the boroughs (not Staten Island - yet!), if only to visit the public schools when recruiting for my job. Most of my contemporaries (white, artsy, Ivy League, twenty-somethings) are transplanted New Yorkers. Everyone can quickly become an expert at the Manhattan street grid and anyone who likes to frequent chi-chi boites can pick up a working knowlegde of the labyrinthine streets of the West Village. But New York's business, political, and media elite (the kind of people I went to school with, who will soon be ruling the world) don't have much connection to the boroughs (and, no, Williamsburg and Park Slope don't count). We didn't grow up there, we don't send our children to the public schools (with good reason). All of this is understandable, but it results in a gap between the people who run things and the people whose lives are affected by the actions of these movers and shakers. This might be true of any city, but the divide seems starker here in New York. There's a reason why Mike Bloomberg makes a show of riding the subway to work every day, even if it is just a show. he wants to appear "connected."

One thing I love about my job is that at least it brings me into contact with the public institutions of New York CIty (not just the public schools, but also, in my pervious job, the New York City criminal courts and jails). It's amazing how little many of my friends know about the municipality they live in, though its perhaps not surprising given the minimal interaction many of us have with the agencies and institutions that working-class people know from daily experience. I do have a small amount of personal connection with the juvenile detention center on 138th St in the Bronx, I know at least what some of the rooms look like inside and I know some of the kids who are in there. I think about that every time I ride by there on the subway or read about juvenile crime in the news. That connection in itself isn't much, but it's the start of being informed about how our city works, which in turn can be the start of agitating for change, the start of trying to build new, more inclusive communities.

I'm not exactly trying to say that rooting for the Mets makes you an agent for positive social change. I'm just saying that I'm proud of my feeling of connection to the team, just as I'm happy that my knowledge of the communities beyond the Manhattan/gentrified-Brooklyn bubble is growing. It's good to be an informed resident in your own city; it feels, dare I say it, mature.

And I guess that's what this whole shift in baseball fan allegiance comes down to. I grew up in Boston, just as I grew up with the Red Sox, and with the Catholic Church. In some ways, all three of those highly parochial entities will always be in my blood. But I can't find my way around Beantown to save my life. I've never lived there as an adult - I don't know which streets run one way, which neighborhoods abut which other ones, where to find a good bar, or anything like that. What I know about Boston is mostly kid stuff. But eventually you put away childish things, you choose a place where you carve out your own identity. That place, for me, has been New York; it's where I've found a mission and part of that mission is getting to know the environment. That's not knowlede I'm acquiring second-hand, but knowledge I'm seeking out, concsiously and (I would argue) conscientiously.

I'm not exactly sure how or why I've stopped going to mass. It started to happen when I moved to Brooklyn and the churches were further away, but that also coincided with my finding a boyfriend who offered a very good reason to stay in bed on Sunday mornings, with my finally getting fed up with some of the Church's intractible teachings, and with the blossoming of an ever-increasing independent streak in my philosophical thought. Have I rejected the faith of my fathers (and aunts and uncles)? Not exactly, but I'd like to think that I see it now a bit more from the "outside"; you might say I see it more critically. The same could be said of my support for the Red Sox. I don't wish them ill, but I'm less and less inclined to believe the dogma which says they're the One True Team. The Sox are the team I was handed at birth, but the Mets are the team I found on my own.


some thoughts on hollywood

Well, I suppose we should start with the numbers. I got 16 out of 24 right. Just about 2/3. In a year of quite a bit of unpredictability, that's pretty good, I'd say. (The best I saw on any of the major Oscar blogs was 18.) This was the year that proved you should go with your gut on those tricky smaller categories; when I did that (in Foreign Film and Sound Editing, for instance) it paid off, but when I went along with the Conventional Wisdom (Costume Design, Song etc.), it didn't.

More important to note, though, is that S and I somehow miraculously tied again!! I was not feeling very competitive this year, but still there could have been tears (or worse) had one of us bested the other. More than one party guest said, "This means you were meant for each other!" and I tend to think that that's true.

And major props to my friend Emelie who also got 16 out of 24, thus tying the hosts for best guesses at our party. Good work!

The Park Slope party was wonderful. Just the right size, just the right amount of food, and some very lovely people. But what about the ceremony itself? Ellen DeGeneres was fine. She barely seemed to factor into the telecast. As a host she reminded me most of Johnny Carson -- dapper, no ideological axe to grind, not trying to steal the spotlight, genial but not hilarious. Very old school.

There was not a single great acceptance speech. Not even a really good one. Forest Whitaker improved over his Globes performance but his speech was all over the map. And how come he didn't say anything about the political context of his film? You can't play Idi Amin and not comment about that... On the other hand what was up with Helen Mirren waxing all monarchist about Elizabeth Windsor's "consistency"? Sure, we can have some respect for the woman, but seriously do we really still need to genuflect in front of this outmoded institution? I expected more from Helen (but I guess she is a Dame, after all).

It seems to me that there was a much higher standard of acceptance speech 20 years ago. You had wit, sentiment, panache. I mean these people are supposed to be ACTORS for goodness' sake! Nowadays everybody just cries, thanks God, or rattles off a list of names. Maybe they should hold a special training session showing the great acceptance speeches of the past -- S and I would be happy to design the curriculum.

Overall, even if you didn't love the movies that won, the winners were a likeable bunch. It's hard to begrudge Forest and Helen, two very talented, very classy performers overdue for an award and who never exude any air of entitlement or snobbery. You couldn't really complain about oldtimer Alan Arkin or newcomer Jennifer Hudson either -- both were underdogs in their own ways and both were very humble. (That's probably why petulant badboy Eddie Murphy didn't win in the end, he's just not as nice as the other ones.)

And, of course, who wasn't rooting for the Most Overdue Man in America -- Martin Scorsese? It's interesting to note that the man commonly considered to be our greatest living film artist had lost in the past to three different celebrity actors-turned-directors: Robert Redford (1980), Kevin Costner (1990), and Clint Eastwood (2004). That alone should show you the Oscars aren't really about art. Marty's finally won (both Best Director and Best Pic) but it's for what is undoubtedly his least personal (and highest grossing) film ever. Other directors of his generation, like Spielberg and Oliver Stone, have interspersed their pet projects with much more commercial fare, but not Marty. I've said many times that Martin Scorsese has never made a perfect film, they're all gloriously flawed -- but their flaws result from too much passion (he's without a doubt our most Catholic filmmaker). The Departed is close to a perfect piece of entertainment (if pressed, I could have done without Leo's accent and the shot of the rat at the end), but it is almost completely lacking in passion of any kind. Even when Marty made a movie like The Age of Innocence, you could sense in it his love of William Wyler and classic Hollywd costume drama. The movie was an object of devotion.

He's said that with this latest picture he wanted to make an updated Warner Brothers gagster movie, the kind that used to star James Cagnery, Bogart, Edward G. Robinson. There's a sense of that in the wisecracks that get traded among the film's talented male ensemble, but the whole thing seems an empty exercise in style (Leo's and Matt Damon's roles are empty figures in a convoluted equation of double-crosses, rather than real characters). Marty did what he had to do to make a commercial movie and, as compromises go, it came out pretty good. He reined in the tendency towards chaos that overwhelmed Gangs of New York and delivered a tight little genre picture. If only more of our entertainment makers could give us more of those more regularly, we'd have a much more palatable movie-going environment (though I did think that Devil Wears Prada and Casino Royale were pretty damn good genre pics this year).

Which leads me to broader concerns. I'm still somewhat amazed that my favorite mainstream movie of last year, Children of Men, was so completely overlooked by Oscar (losing even its well-deserved nomination for Cinematography). Children of Men was a stunning example of a filmmaker taking a genre (the dystopian thriller) and making something truly unique and poetic out of it. Everything about the film is different than you expect -- though it is a big action film with violence and explosions and special effects, the scale of the film feels small, quotidian. Though it presents a vision of the apocalypse, its attitude could be hardly less bombastic. Where other films would make you dizzy with fast-paced cutting, Children of Men quietly astounds with some of the most stunning sustained shoots in recent cinema. Central characters (played by big movie stars) are abruptly killed (and not all at the end, Marty). There are absolutely no distracting subplots and a minimum of overemphatic psychological detail.

Cuaron takes one central idea from P.D. James's novel -- a world without children -- and extends it to miraculously support an entire film. The film consists of one single metaphor: childlessness as a representation of all the ways that the present generation ignores, screws over, and decimates the future. The film could be said to be about war, global poverty, environmental disaster. It is about all of those things, though none of them explicitly. It's sweep is grand without any need to announce its comprehensiveness (take note, Sr. Gonzalez Inarritu). The world of the future it presents is not exactly like our own, instead it exists on a continuum with it. Step outside the theater and you expect to find that the filmmaker's vision has spilled out into the streets.

Hollywood rarely lets viewers write anything into its movies. It rarely lets us choose where we should look in the frame or decide on our own how to make sense of the patterns of detail that its films offer us. It rarely asks a viewer to do any work at all. Instead, it serves up textbooks passing for works of art. Hollywood is beholden to the literal and the obvious.

The night after the Oscars, I watched United 93 on DVD. This film, the first cinematic recreation of the events of 9/11, did quite well with the critics and also with Oscar, snagging nominations for Director and Editing. It was widely praised for its realistic detail and its absence of "Hollywood" trickery. The film definitely aspired to a documentary level of verisimilitude, which was richly textured and quite convincing (reminiscent in many ways of Children of Men). What I liked most about it was learning (a bit) about how air traffic controllers work. When the movie kept cutting between shots of various flabby white men staring at computer screens, I respected them for their itegrity. I love it when movies show us how systems work.

Inevitably, though, we find ourselves in the cabin of Flight 93 with four crazed terroorists and a planeful of normal people. What ensues is a string of violent acts, perpetrated first by the terrorists against the passengers in order to gain control of the aircraft and then by the passengers in order to fight back, all of which results in a plane crash. And then (except for some title cards) the movie is over. Every one of these very ordinary people perishes senselessly. We are meant to understand their bravery in seizing control of the plane and presumably stopping it from hitting its intended target (the Capitol building?). If the film has any agenda, it is that the government failed us on 9/11 -- they were unable to coordinate their response in time to save the people on the planes and in the buildings. But a group of ordinary people (not even the flight crew, they come off as particularly ineffectual) were able to band together and do something. That's a story of American ingenuity and volunteerism that would ring true for Tocquville.

To me, however, the movie only served to underline the utter meaninglessness of 9/11. A couple of years ago, the 9/11 Commission apportioned out its recommendations for how our intelligence services should be re-organized in order to better respond to that type of situation in the future. That is good (and practical) and strikes me as a suseful response to the events of that day. Recreating the experience from a "you-are-there" perspective strikes me as antithetical to any insight.

I can't tell you how troubling the film's glorification of "realism" is. Maybe it does present us with as accurate a depiction as we'll ever get of what happened in that plane. But let's step back and ask ourselves, "Why do we need such a depiction?"

A documentary on the DVD extras further confirmed for me that the film is intended as a fetish object. This featurette goes to great lengths to show how the families of those who died were involved in the making of the film and supported it. In scene after scene we see the actors who played the passengers meet with the families. Inevitably, the relatives hug them and say things like, "Oh my God, it's just like seeing him again!" In one visit, a mother says that she's going to introduce the actress to the dead girl that she portrayed and proceeds to take out an urn of ashes and speak about it as if it were a person. What is it that makes excruciating rituals like this necessary? What goes on in the mind of a man who wants to see a filmmakers graphic recreation of his wife, an airline stewardess, getting stabbed to death by terrorists? That's supposed to offer "closure"?

I found it curious that so much energy had been put into representing a plane crash that happened over five years ago when we have people (Americans and Iraqis) dying in comparable numbers every day in Baghdad. Where are the Hollywood films meticulously recreating the details of those deaths? The Department of Defense does even attempt to track Iraqui civilian casualties.

Maybe it's the Marxist in me, but I look for art to help me re-organize the world, or at least to re-organize my vision of it, rather than to dump on me a leaden representation of past events. If Hollywood is going to create meaningful art, it needs to start challenging us more, not only in the ways that we view films but the ways we view the world. United 93 is a "difficult" film because of the amount of gut-churning violence it inflicts upon us. I await a new spate of films whose "difficulty" lies in the challenge they pose to us to make the world anew.

golden boys


one track mind

I'm a bit ashamed that I haven't written a single post since my predictions of the Oscar nominations and now here I am with my predictions of the winners. I promise that I think about other things! And some day I will post them up...

But on to the awards. Here are my predictions. This year is exciting only in the sense that Best Picture is a complete toss-up; I don't think anyone is really positive about their prediction in that category, which is very rare. However, there aren't many nominees that I'm really rooting for this year. I'll consider myself happy if "Children of Men" wins a much-deserved Cinematography award. In a just world, it would be winning Best Picture. And "Casino Royale" would have been nominated instead of "Little Miss Sunshine." Ah well.

One final comment: have you noticed how many of the likely acting winners are black? There hasn't been a lot of commentary about that, which I guess is a reflection of how frequently we've had black nominees (and winners) in the past few years. Which is great. Now we should all start raising a ruckus about there never being black nominees (let alone winners!) in any non-acting categories! Let's not wait until Spike Lee is 84 to recognize his unique contribution to American cinema, OK?

And now, my predictions....

BEST PICTURE - The Departed

BEST ACTRESS - Helen Mirren, The Queen

BEST ACTOR - Forrest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

BEST DIRECTOR - Martin Scorsese, The Departed





BEST ART DIRECTION - Pan's Labyrinth



BEST ORIGINAL SONG - "Listen" from Dreamgirls

BEST SOUND EDITING - Letters from Iwo Jima


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS - Pirates of the Carribean 2: Dead Man's Chest

BEST MAKEUP - Pan's Labyrinth



BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT - The Blood of Yingzhou District




Now we just have to wait and see what happens. Will it all end with a "Crash" again this year?

P.S. S and I spent the morning on Saturday OD'ing on Oscar. We went to this promotional event in Times Square called "Meet the Oscars" where the public got to see actual Oscar statuettes (Clark Gable's for "It Happened One Night" and Bette Davis's for "Jezebel") and also got to get their pictures taken while holding an Oscar. I went a little bit gaga and encouraged (i.e. forced) S to reenact with me several Oscar acceptance speeches while we standing near giant Oscar statues. These are captured on videotape. I am lobbying for them to be shown to guests at the Park Slope Oscar party, but I may also be able to distribute them electronically, if you're interested. The speeches we reenacted were:

Louise Fletcher, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
Barbara Stanwyck, Honorary Award (my favorite Oscar speech EVER!)
Juliette Binoche, "The English Pateint"
Sophia Loren, Honorary Award
Jessica Tandy, "Driving Miss Daisy" (this was the briefest and ballsiest, we filmed it while I was actually holding the statue)

Why did we choose only women? Why indeed.....


going for the gold

As some of you may be aware, this Tuesday is the announcement of the nominees for the Academy Awards. As you must know by now, Oscar Night is the night of the year that I anticipate more eagerly than any other. Last year, S. and I competed to guess who would win Oscars in every category -- and we tied.

This year, to raise the stakes, we've decided to bet on the nominations in the major categories as well. The following are my predictions for who will get nominated on Tues. Jan. 23. Let the games begin!

The Departed
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

Penelope Cruz, Volver
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren, The Queen
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet, Little Children

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed
Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
Peter O'Toole, Venus
Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

Adriana Barraza, Babel
Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi, Babel

Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
Jackie Earl Haley, Little Children
Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
Jack Nicholson, The Departed

Bill Condon, Dreamgirls
Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears, The Queen
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel
Martin Scorsese, The Departed

Little Miss Sunshine
Pan's Labyrinth
The Queen
United 93

Children of Men
The Departed
The Devil Wears Prada
Little Children

OK, if you want to see how accurate I was, click here.