Friday, January 31, 2014
Three-Thousand And Thirty Funny Minutes
I just read Ken Bloom and Frank Vlastnik's Sitcom: The 101 Greatest TV Comedies Of All Time. I checked it out because I enjoyed their book on the 101 greatest Broadway musicals. But don't rush out to your bookstore (as if there are bookstores any more) since the thing came out in 2007.
It's pretty good for what it is--a lavishly illustrated coffee table book with a short essay on each show. Which shows? The usual suspects (up to 2007). I won't bother to list them.
Not to put down the writing, but the photos are the best reason to buy the book, especially since they've chosen a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff and plenty of color shots for shows that were in black and white.
It might be fun to see a book that goes all the way, coffee table be damned. It'd be fun to see, amongst the encomia, some jaundiced views, like Leave It To Beaver is boring, Gilligan's Island is stupid, Frasier is bland, whatever. The reader wouldn't have to agree--after all, most buy it for the pictures. But you could dip in here and there, never knowing what to expect.
Take Me To Your Lieder
Happy birthday, Franz Schubert. He died at 31 (officially of typhoid fever, though many today suspect syphilis), and while alive was not widely popular, but today is considered one of the top composers of the romantic era.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Things you suspect but never got around to documenting
Resolved: This is not a University of Chicago-style question.
Update: Unhappily, The Telegraph seems to have some virus issues, so link is in the comments.
On February 9th it'll be fifty years since the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan and changed everything. As Edna Gunderson at USA Today notes, there'll be a celebration on CBS that night, featuring the two surviving Beatles and many other acts. As well there should.
Edna goes on to report about their arrival in America a few days before the Sullivan spot:
The Beatles landed at the newly named
Starr quipped, "Turn left at Greenland."
A good line to be sure--even famous--but not to be found in the transcript of their Kennedy Airport press conference, but rather in the movie released later that year, A Hard Day's Night (where John says it).
The movie was written by Alun Owen, though he did base it on the Beatles' lives. By the way, here are some lines from the actual press conference that Gunderson could have used:
Q: In Detroit Michigan, they're handing out car stickers saying, 'Stamp Out The Beatles.'
PAUL: [...] we're bringing out a Stamp Out Detroit campaign.
FEMALE FAN: Would you please sing something? [....]
JOHN: No, we need money first.
Q: Are you going to get a haircut at all while you're here? [....]
GEORGE: I had one yesterday.
Q: What do you think your music does for these people? [....] Why does it excite them so much?
JOHN: If we knew, we'd form another group and be managers.
Q: What do you think of Beethoven?
RINGO: Great. Especially his poems.
Man Of Brooklyn
Happy birthday, composer Mitch Leigh. Born Irwin Mitchnik, he studied music at Yale and became one of the top jingle writers around. Then he turned to Broadway, where his first musical was Man Of La Mancha, a blockbuster. He wrote a handful of other musicals, all flops. But hey, one blockbuster and a bunch of jingles can pay for the rest.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Not clear on the concept
I love Professor Epstein (and his abbreviated version of the Constitution, in its entirety following the introduction: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"), but what does he think he gains by saying this?
"The President needs to recognize that the first order of business is growth, not transfer payments."
There is a fair chance the president will obtain amnesty this year, unless something penetrates Boehner's impenetrable skull.
That and Obamacare are enough to make him about the most successful leftist president in history. And that's not even counting the most important independent agency ever, CFPB.
What, exactly, does Professor Epstein think the president should do here, other than change his entire worldview? If we're talking about free markets, a free country, widespread prosperity, constitutional representative government, okay, that's one thing (well, maybe one constellation), but it's got nothing to do with Obama's policies. Rather, he should be addressing any institutions that are opposed to giving these things up, not those institutions that are successfully oiling up the handbasket.
I admit, it's a bit hard to find them. Who would he start with? The press? The Republicans? The universities? So I acknowledge his difficulty. But it undercuts his credibility to address his plea to the president. The president is doing just fine; like Willie Sutton, he knows what his goals are.
Happy birthday, Bill Kirchen. He was born in Ann Arbor, one of my favorite cities. He's best known as one of the guys behind Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, though he's done lots of other work in the years sine they broke up.
The spiritual grandfather of the modern folk movement, Pete Seeger, has died.
In the 40s he was a popular performer of folk music which he gathered from around the country. He was also an outspoken communist, which would get him in trouble soon enough. In the early 50s he had some big hits as part of the Weavers before they had trouble with the blacklist. But he made his way back, as big as ever, as a singer and songwriter, not to mention an activist. (He was also an early backer of Dylan, though he allegedly wished he could cut the cable when Dylan first went electric).
So let's sing out today.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, a two-act play about a woman who goes about her life even though she's mostly buried in the ground, is getting a revival at Pasadena's Boston Court Performing Arts Center. The show is a tour de force for any actress, and also a sign of how Beckett tried to do more and more with less and less.
A central theme to much of his stage work is deterioration. Things are bad and getting worse, and often the best we can manage is to get used to it. A powerful theme. But the short description of the production has me worried. Here's the first sentence:
Renowned director Andrei Belgrader re-examines this Samuel Beckett classic, newly relevant to a generation burdened by climate change and environmental doom.
Oh boy. The idea that there's something special about this generation when it comes to gloom and doom shows a lack of perspective that makes me question the whole production. The theme of Beckett's work is relevant today, yes, but that's because it was relevant when he wrote it and will almost certainly be relevant in the future. To claim it's newly relevant, or specially relevant now, only cheapens the work.
The play stars Brooke Adams. My advice--stick to the lines, you won't go wrong.
Happy birthday Marty Fried of The Cyrkle. The band only had a few hits, but I know I still listen to them.
Monday, January 27, 2014
Armand T. Ringer
Just as many would go straight to the sports section of the morning paper, so did millions of readers for over a generation make a beeline for Martin Gardner's "Mathematical Games" in Scientific American. Gardner's column was the most popular part of the magazine, in fact, and Gardner himself a hero to countless nerdy types. And he was a lot more than a columnist, publishing numerous books about science, pseudoscience, magic, puzzles, poetry and philosophy, not to mention his annotations of other writers, such as L. Frank Baum, G. K. Chesterton and Lewis Carroll. (My Annotated Alice has twenty pages printed upside-down--I wonder if that makes it a collector's item?)
Undiluted Hocus-Pocus. The text is about 200 short pages, and so whimsically written I have to wonder if it was just notes for something he intended to do more seriously later on. For instance, as short as it is, it's half over by the time he gets out of the navy and truly embarks on his journalistic career.
Worse, most of the book is impersonal--many of the chapters are about people he knew, followed by a description of what they did or thought. The pages, for instance, on his years at the University of Chicago mostly deal with the administrators and professors he met, not what he did there himself. (Gardner often refers to other books he's written if we want more information--I'm glad they're out there, but that's the sort of stuff we expect in an autobiography.)
While he follows a general chronology, the book is fairly compartmentalized. His decades at Scientific American, the central activity in his life to many, are dealt with rather quickly in one chapter. And later we get an even shorter chapter on how he met and married his wife.
Only in the last two chapters does he discuss at length his personal philosophy. While Gardner fans may already be aware of these beliefs, this is still some of the most fascinating stuff in the book.
Aesthetically, Gardner was a classicist. Not that he didn't like anything new, but much modern art and poetry he thought little of--some of it, in fact, he felt was essentially a scam.
He was also a "mysterian." That is, he believed that there are some subjects, such as, say, free will and consciousness, that we will never truly understand. Just as, say, a dog could never understand quantum physics, so are there great mysteries out there which our DNA precludes us from comprehending. He certainly may be right about that, but I'm not sure where it leaves us--how can we tell what we can and can't understand before the fact?
This may not be the best book on Martin Gardner we could have, but I guess it's the best autobiography we're going to get, and that's good enough for me.
One Of The Ettes
Happy birthday Nedra Talley, one of the Ronettes. She was one of the Ronettes, comprised of sisters Ronnie Spector and Estelle Bennett, and Nedra, their cousin.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Write What You Know
In Variety, TV writer Brian Lowry announces "The Seven Most Tired Media Trends Of 2013." The fifth is "Political columnists writing about pop culture." For instance, he complains about Ross Douthat commenting on 12 Years A Slave. As Lowry puts it:
Look, we all know newspapers are trying to reach a slightly younger audience, but that’s a poor excuse for dabbling in something about which most of these columnists [...] appear to know very little.
If anything, then, he's on Lowry's side when it comes to political columnists writing about pop culture. And my guess is Brian Lowry would know that if he'd actually read the piece.
Happy birthday, Jimmy Van Heusen, another one of those songwriters without the name recognition of George Gershwin or Richard Rodgers but still wrote a toe of hits. Such as....
Saturday, January 25, 2014
Leftover Vanity Plates Of The Month
MSK TCHR. I suppose MSC TCHR was taken.
GIN INSD. A card player of some sort?
CNT W8. And yet I saw the car waiting at the curb.
IRNMAN. The first or a sequel?
GLOWRIA. Good it's not normally spelled like this or Van Morrison would have been in trouble.
Here's the Hollywood Reporter: "Poor Mary Shelley is no doubt spinning in her grave."
Here's Variety: "[...] this listless supernatural actioner surely has Mary Shelley turning in her grave."
It's a natural line. I wonder how many other reviewers are using it.
Friday, January 24, 2014
I think I've identified a new sitcom type. Watching a few shows recently I noticed one thing they had in common--a female character who talk-whines. Let me show you what I mean.
Example #1: Gina in Brooklyn Nine Nine:
Example #2: Dalia in Suburgatory:
Example #3, Myra in Episodes:
I think that constitutes a trend.
Catching Some Z's
He died a bit over ten years ago, way too early, but happy birthday, Warren Zevon.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
May I be excused?
This is what happened to me. In fact, I was a prodigy. I did most of my learning early--which turned out to be a mistake. It's slowed me down ever since.
B To The C
So Bill Cosby is planning to do another sitcom:
(Not a good sign when someone refers to himself in the third person.)
Cosby must really want to do this, since he obviously doesn't need the money. If it gets on the air, this'll be his fourth sitcom. The first was The Bill Cosby Show. The second was The Cosby Show. The third was Cosby.
So I'm guessing this one will be known as Cos. Or maybe just C.
Happy birthday, Django Reinhardt, perhaps the greatest guitarist of them all.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Statesman protects the big picture
Hey, Pat, good to hear from you.
Any idea where I can buy some lightbulbs?
Bring in Mickey and the job'll be done
Going To The Dogs
The third season of Suburgatory premiered a week ago. As a show it's okay, though I suppose I only watch it because it's between The Middle and Modern Family. Anyway, part of the plot was about the protagonists taking in a dog that one of the neighbors wanted sent back to the pound. It would have been fascinating if the neighbor found the dog and had it put down, but that's never going to happen on a sitcom--they compromised and the dog was neutered.
Quite a few sitcoms have had dogs--The Simpsons, Frasier, Married With Children, The Brady Bunch and probably about a hundred others. I generally don't like pets in sitcoms, because they're often there for the "aw" factor, plus they're not good at handling dialogue. I suppose it's how you write around them that counts. And now that ABC Thursday has three dog shows in a row (I haven't kept up with Super Fun Night so it might be four), I suppose I should get used to it.
Now We're Cooke-ing
Sam Cooke was murdered when he was 33. Otherwise, he might still singing in that smooth, beautiful style on his birthday today.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Speaking of Congress
Alas, the two teams I was rooting against on Sunday will be facing off in the Super Bowl. Why don't I like them? I have my reasons. If it weren't for the commercials I might not even watch the game.
That said, it could be a classic Super Bowl, with the best defense--the Seahawks--versus the best offense--the Broncos. (Though I find both teams offensive.) I believe the Seahawks are slight favorites, but I wonder if most fans wouldn't call it even.
What Was He Good For?
Happy birthday to soulful Motown singer Edwin Starr.
Monday, January 20, 2014
Does she know anyone who voted for Nixon?
This review is a lot of fun. I'm picking up the merest patina of dislike for Roger Ailes, a soupcon. It seems to be outweighed, though, by her dislike of an apparatchik who just can't close the deal.
They hate Congress too?
I just watched Looking, the new HBO comedy-drama that some are calling Sex And The City for gay men (though I thought Sex And The City was Sex And The City for gay men). It's apparently about the lives and loves of a group of men living in San Francisco.
The show is reasonably slick and literate, but not especially witty or penetrating. Worse, though I'm sure we'll get more deeply into the relationships in the 8-episode season, for now, there's not much forward motion. The characters may have a general longing to connect, but at present the goals aren't that specific. If they want me to stick around, I'll need more.
Give Earl A Whirl
Happy birthday, Earl Grant. He wasn't a huge star, but was a reasonably popular singer in the 50s and 60s. His big hit, "The End" (not "The End OF A Rainbow"), got to #7 on the pop charts in 1957. He died in a car accident when he was 39 or he might have also been popular in the 70s.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Hey! Old people! Get offa my lawn!
"They buy one cup of coffee, and they’re literally here for hours."
What are we talkin' here, Starbucks and hipsters?
Which Character Is Joe Biden?
Intriguing editorial entitled "Obama, Melville and the Tea Party" in the Sunday Times by professor Greg Grandin of NYU. Not the frothing attack on the Tea Party--Grandin hates them so deeply he can't discuss the movement rationally, par for the course among many in academia--but the fact that he believes Melville's classic "Benito Cereno" helps illuminate the Republican hatred of President Obama.
It gave me the oddest sense of deja vu. Then it hit me. It was October 2005 when Melville biographer Andrew Delbanco claimed "Benito Cereno" helped show why Bush didn't know what he was doing in Iraq.
An amazing work by Melville. No matter who's in office, the story tells us something about what's going on today in the mind of the left. Guess we'll have to wait to see if a Republican or a Democrat is elected in 2016 to decide if the novella attacks or defends the next administration.
I Should Worry
Happy birthday, Ish Kabibble (born Merwyn Bogue--well wouldn't you?). He was the most famous member of Kay Kyser's band beside Kyser himself. He played cornet and also sang after a fashion.
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Paramount first studio to stop distributing film prints
What were they using it for? To prop up uneven tables and chairs?
(And how do you link titles, anyway? Pre-death cycle ColumbusGuy was able to do that, so why can't I? Improvements in the interface to make things easier?)
Mickey Rooney, call your agent
slap of a million exploding suns” that he learned from three masters. The cast’s Alyson Hannigan, Cobie Smulders and Josh Radnor served as said masters, dressed to make them look as though they were Asian.'
I don't know. Sounds like Undercover Brother, if you ask me. Now, where's my secret agent ring . . .
Just checked out This Land Was Made For You And Me (But Mostly Me), by Bruce McCall and David Letterman. In case you don't get it, it's noted on the back "...an illustrated guide to the outrageous display of obscene wealth by the world's one percent."
So I can recommend this book as something fun to look at, but not so great if you plan to read it.
HBO's latest drama, True Detective, stars a couple names more commonly found in movies these days--Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. Turns out the series is an anthology, so only this season's eight episodes will feature MM and WH. I guess that's how you get movie stars to commit.
That said, McConaughey and Harrelson both do fine work, the former as a moody, philosophical detective with a mysterious past and the latter as a the family man who knows how to play the game. I'll definitely keep watching. I'm glad there's only eight episodes--I like a good story, but I like closure, too.
Friday, January 17, 2014
Questions everybody is asking
Man On The Moon
Andy Kaufman would have been 65 today. Some think he's still around, and I guess he still is.
Happy birthday Susanna Hoffs, best known as the main voice and face of The Bangles.
Oscar Oscar Oscar
You already know what I thought of last year. Now come the Oscar nominations. Who got picked? Who got snubbed? Who cares?
Let's look at the main categories.
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
Nine choices here (there could have been ten). No surprise choices, though Her and Philomena weren't guaranteed. What's missing? Lee Daniel's The Butler, August: Osage County, Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr. Banks, Fruitvale Station--all titles that are going to see a lot of snubs. No Blue Jasmine, either, though it'll get other nods.
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio The Wolf Of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Bale and DiCaprio weren't shoo-ins, but not shocks either. The shocks here are no Tom Hanks, no Robert Redford. (Is the Academy getting younger?) No Forest Whitaker or Joaquin Phoenix either.
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
The only slight surprise here is Amy Adams, though the Academy does like her. They love Meryl Streep, and can't stop nominating her. In fact, everyone here has already been nominated. Biggest snub by far is Emma Thompson. Also no Adele Exarchopoulus from Blue Is The Warmest Color (which the Academy ignored entirely).
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Jonah Hill is becoming an Academy favorite. Who would have guessed. (He did his best work in Superbad but that's not what wins awards. For that matter, he wasn't bad last year in This Is The End, but that's not going to get nominated either.) Abdi a bit of a surprise, as since Hanks was snubbed for that film (and was also snubbed in this category for Saving Mr. Banks.). Cooper also a bit of a surprise, since he wasn't as notable as his co-stars, but the Academy loves American Hustle and gave the actors a nomination in all the categories. Missing--though no shock--are Will Forte, Daniel Bruhl and James Gandolfini. Leto will win, though this category--usually the best--seems a bit less inspired than usual.
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
June Squibb, Nebraska
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Pretty much all the names expected here, though Sally Hawkins was far from guaranteed. First supporting role nomination for Roberts (though her part could be called the lead, the filmmakers decided that's where Meryl goes). Lawrence is young and already a favorite of the Academy. Should be a good battle. Some are saying Oprah got snubbed except I never thought she had much of a chance. Some thought Jennifer Garner had a shot, though she had the nothing role in Dallas Buyers Club. Some believed Lea Seydoux had a chance but, as we've seen, Blue Is the Warmest Color simply wasn't on the Academy's radar. Some thought Scarlett Johansson's voice in Her had a chance, but that was never going to happen.
The Wind Rises
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The big snub here--Monsters University. Rare a Pixar film doesn't make it, and this one deserved it. Otherwise, no surprises, though I'm sure The Croods and Ernest & Celestine are happy to be here.
American Hustle, David O. Russell
Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron
Nebraska, Alexander Payne
12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen
The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese
This gives an idea of the favorites in best film, and the only slight surprise here is Nebraska, though the Academy likes Payne. And Scorsese, shunned for so many years, has become the Meryl Streep of directors. No room for Spike Jonze or Paul Greengrass. No Woodman, no Lee Daniel's, though I guess it had to be that way.
Before Midnight, Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Captain Phillips, Billy Ray
Philomena, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
12 Years a Slave, John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street, Terence Winter
Just as the day is ending, Before Midnight gets a nominations. The rest pretty much expected.
I like how the Academy is saying August: Osage County was good enough for a Pulitzer Prize, but not good enough for us.
American Hustle, Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen
Dallas Buyers Club, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Her, Spike Jonze
Nebraska, Bob Nelson
The Woodman gets another chance to snub the Academy. The rest expected. Yet another snub for the Coen Brothers.
Cutie and the Boxer
20 Feet From Stardom
A bit surprising not to see Blackfish or Stories We Tell.
Overall, it's looking pretty good for American Hustle, which got the most nominations at ten. (Gravity also got ten nominations, though they were more for technical categories.) 12 Years A Slave got nine, which is pretty good, except a lot of pundits expected it would win the derby for most nominations.
As we get closer to the day, I'll give my predictions and/or choices for the winners.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
First they came for the comedians
"Having an unusual personality structure could be the secret to making other people laugh, scientists said on Thursday[.]"
Impulsive non-conformists, the whole bunch of them.
Bob Bogle helped found the Ventures, the most successful instrumental band in rock. If he were still around today would be his 80th, so let's hear some guitar.
Write And Wrong
Last year a documentary of J.D. Salinger came out, but the reviews were weak so I took a pass. After all, I'd read a biography a couple years ago and didn't feel I had much to learn about the reclusive author. Recently at the library I saw the book that came out with the doc and decided to check it out. It still had the same basic outline, of course, but at almost 700 pages, including notes, was able to go more in depth in many areas.
It's actually an oral history, though not just of people who knew Salinger. Some of them, for instance, talk about the battles he was involved in during WWII, others about his literary output. But there's also a lot from people who met him, and a few who even had affairs with him.
He also had early success, and that can change a person. He became an influential New Yorker writer in his 20s, and by his early 30s cane out with his first--and only--novel, one that would become a touchstone for a generation (or two or three). I haven't read Catcher In The Rye in years, but I did stop to look at a few pages not long ago and I admit Holden Caulfield had me laughing. The book was not only a bestseller in its day, but it kept selling through the years. This meant, if nothing else, Salinger never had to work again if he didn't want to.
But it was also the kind of book that made readers want to meet the author. He moved up to Cornish, New Hampshire to have peace and quiet while he wrote, but numerous fans made pilgrimages. Perhaps more troubling, his book inspired three assassins in the 1980s, two who succeeded in killing their target, a third who came close.
He sampled many religions, searching for something--even dabbling in Christian Science and Scientology--but seemed most interested in Eastern thought. He mainly followed Vedanta, which saw life in four stages. First the apprenticeship; then worldly duties, where you might marry and raise a family; next a withdrawal from society; and finally a renunciation of the world. We can see the effect of his beliefs on his writing--after Catcher, Salinger concentrated on the Glass family, publishing several stories and books about them; at first his religion informed these stories, but by the end the stories sometimes seemed to be mostly about selling his religion.
He did have friends--some of whom called him quite charming and witty (not hard to believe)--but with most of his acquaintances he had a falling out, as they couldn't measure up to his strict requirements. Sooner or later, most of his friends "betrayed" him, which usually meant they didn't do exactly what he wanted.
He published less and less, and stopped publishing entirely in the 1960s. It may have been his religion, or perhaps his reaction to the harsh reviews his latest work was getting. But he did keep writing in the last decades of his life. One of the big revelations of the book is some of his work--including more on the Glass family, but also material about WWII (a subject he didn't directly write about after the war was over)--will be published by his estate starting in 2015. If this is true, it'll be a major event. Still, his last few works were awful, so I think it may be best to take a wait and see attitude.
Whatever the work is like, I guess his reputation is made. All it takes is one memorable book. But part of that reputation was his silence, which makes one wonder if that wasn't partly the idea.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Film Year In Review--2013
Time for our eagerly awaited film wrap-up for 2013. Overall, a pretty good year, and regular readers know I don't usually say that. In fact, I've sometimes had enough trouble finding ten films I liked at all, much less a decent top ten list. This year it was no trouble (despite the fact I missed a number of well-received films*). Furthermore, a lot of films I felt didn't work were still, at least, interesting--bizarre, or thoughtful, or beautiful, or quirky or something worth noting.
Before we get to the fun, let's go over the ground rules. I discuss only feature films first released in theatres or made widely available in theatres in 2013. No TV, no shorts. I'll give out some awards, note some trends, tell you which films were good, bad or ugly, and then list my top ten. You can rush to the bottom right now, but really, most of the best stuff is along the way.
Please feel free to leave a comment, whether you agree with me or not--in fact, I doubt very much you'll agree with me.
(*I don't generally mention the films I don't see, or people will ask what's the point of my top ten list, but here are a few that, for one reason or another, I didn't get to in 2013: Short Term 12, Fruitvale Station, The Wind Rises, The Act Of Killing, Before Midnight, Stories We Tell, Wadjda, Blue Is The Warmest Color, The Great Beauty, At Berkeley, Fill The Void, To The Wonder, The Selfish Giant. Some are only getting wide releases in 2014, so maybe they'll be in next year's wrap-up.)
Star Of The Year: Tie (and co-stars this year)--Sandra Bullock, no longer an ingénue, scores in two very different films, The Heat and Gravity; Melissa McCarthy, against all odds, has become the most bankable comic star in movies, turning two so-so comedies, Identity Thief and The Heat, into big hits.
Performance Of The Year: Tie--Daniel Bruhl in Rush and Steve Coogan in Philomena
New Face Of 2013: Jackson Nicoll as the grandson in Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. The kid really commits.
Song Of The Year: Frozen was reasonably tuneful, but the winner is from Inside Llewyn Davis.
Worst Dialogue: The Counselor. Cormac McCarthy's script, where characters stop the action every ten minutes to discuss the meaning of it all, may work in a novel, but not a movie.
Worst Sequel: Despicable Me 2. A gigantic hit, but I didn't see any point to it--Gru starts as a softhearted good guy, so where was there to go? Didn't think much of the plot, either, and the solution to the crisis was too easy.
Most Disappointing Sequel: Kick-Ass 2. The original made my top ten list, but this just didn't work.
Worst Reboot: Man Of Steel
Put It Out Of Its Misery Award: The Hangover III
Least Honest Film Based On A True Story: I think American Hustle has it right, starting the film with "Some of this actually happened." Virtually every film is ready to sacrifice reality for dramatic reasons. For some films this is easy enough to ignore, such as The Conjuring, which is allegedly based on an actual case of demonic possession, but is about as realistic as Ghostbusters. It's the stories that viewers may believe that are more troublesome. For instance, some claim the captain in Captain Phillips was no hero but a screw-up (I have no idea), and P. L. Travers apparently despised the movie version of Mary Poppins. But I think the winner is Lee Daniel's The Butler, loosely based on the life of a real White House butler. The film not only created two sons who existed only so they could live through every cliché of the civil rights movement, but also seems to have taken one of the highlights of the butler's life and turned it into a moment of bitter reflection, all so the filmmakers can lecture us.
Best Opening: The first 13 minutes of Gravity. How they got this shot without actually going into space I have no idea.
Worst Ending: The Spectacular Now. I've heard the novel is more depressing, but really guys, after all you put us through, I don't need ambiguity to make the story seem deeper.
Nudest Nudity: Rosario Dawson in Trance.
Nudest Suggested Nudity: Cameron Diaz in The Counselor.
No One To Root For Award: A tie--The East (eco-terrorists versus evil corporations) and The Kings Of Summer (overbearing parents versus snotty teenagers)
Most Effective Trailer: Tie--Now You See Me and We're The Millers, trailers so well done that they helped take two titles no one thought would do much and turned them into solid hits.
Most Mindless Violence: Tie--A Good Day To Die Hard and Man Of Steel.
Worst Villain: Benedict Cumberbatch, you're no KHAANNNNNNN!
Least Sensible Motivations: Maybe I couldn't follow its complex plot, but nothing anyone did in the last hour of Fast & Furious 6 made any sense to me. (Perhaps buying a ticket didn't make too much sense either.)
You Me And Dupree Award For The Film That While Nominally A Hollywood Comedy Is Actually A Surrealist Masterpiece Where Plot Points Are Introduced And Dropped For No Reason, Dialogue Is Unrelated To The Action, And Characters Do Things That Bear No Resemblance To How Humans Act: Grown Ups 2
Most Enjoyable Screen Presence Who Appears In One Bad Film After Another: Jason Statham, who starred last year in Parker and Homefront
Least Predictable Plot: Tie--The Place Beyond The Pines and Movie 43.
Worst Framing Device: Now You See Me. You know what's a good plot? A ragtag bunch of magicians using their talents to lead the authorities on a merry chase. You know what's an idiotic plot? These same magicians committing serial felonies at the behest of a secret figure all because they want to be part of a fictional magic society.
Enemy I'd Most Like To Face: Orcs from The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug. They swarm a place but barely kill anyone, and their heads come off real easy.
Film They Made A Decade Too Late: Not Anchorman 2, but The Internship
Least Deserving Performance Guaranteed To Win An Oscar: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club.
Film That's Really As Horrible As Everyone Says: R.I.P.D.
House Of Sand And Fog Award For Reminding Us How Miserable Life Is: Inside Llewyn Davis, a depressing week in the life of a depressed loser who's on a losing streak.
Went A Long Way To Go Nowhere Award: The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
Numbers Racket: Movie 43, Room 237, 42, 20 Feet From Stardom, 2 Guns, 12 Years A Slave
Impacted Colon: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, August: Osage County, Thor: The Dark World, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters, Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions Of A Marriage Counselor, Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones, One Direction: This Is Us
Names Make Good Titles: John Dies At The End, Parker, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Frances Ha, Blue Jasmine, We're The Millers, Don Jon, Percy Jackson, Captain Phillips, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lee Daniel's The Butler
Pretentiousness Alert (Pointless Black And White Division): Nebraska, Frances Ha and Much Ado About Nothing
Game Time: Ender's Game, Hunger Games, Computer Chess
White Guys In A Moving Vehicle Embarrassingly Singing Along To Wimpy Rap: Don Jon, We're The Millers
Whimsy Is Hard: Girl Most Likely, Serial Buddies, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
Michael Cera Is The Most Awful Person Who Ever Lived: This Is The End, Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus
If You Stand Right Outside Someone's Car A Vehicle Will Hit You: World War Z, The Spectacular Now
Play Dead, Side Effects, Sound City, The Croods, The Way Way Back, Captain Phillips, Kill Your Darlings, Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks (though the flashbacks slowed the story down)
John Dies At The End, Oz The Great And Powerful, Olympus Has Fallen, Wrong, It's A Disaster, Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries And Mentors Of Ricky Jay, Now You See Me, 42, This Is The End, Epic, Blue Jasmine, We're The Millers, When Comedy Went To School, The World's End, Pacific Rim, Afternoon Delight, Bad Grandpa, All Is Lost, The Ackermonster Chronicles, The Hobbit: The Desolution Of Smaug (not bad considering the first film was just awful), Jack The Giant Killer, Thor 2, Dhoom 3, Wrong Cops
Struck By Lightning, Movie 43 (though so disgusting it's almost worth seeing), The Last Stand, Parker, Bullet To The Head, Admission, Identity Thief, A Good Day To Die Hard, Gangster Squad, Snitch, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Adventures Of Serial Buddies, Spring Breakers (though James Franco was something), Somebody Up There Likes Me, Gimme The Loot, The Place Beyond The Pines, Trance, Oblivion, Iron Man 3, Pain And Gain, The Great Gatsby, Star Trek Into Darkness, Frances Ha, The Hangover III, Fast & Furious 6, The Iceman, The Internship, The Kings Of Summer, Man Of Steel, The East, World War Z, Much Ado About Nothing, The Bling Ring, The Heat, The Long Ranger, Despicable Me 2, Grown Ups 2, Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, Red 2, The To Do List, Girl Most Likely, 2 Guns, The Spectacular Now, Europa Report, In A World...., Elysium, Prince Avalanche, Kick Ass 2, Lee Daniel's The Butler, R.I.P.D., After Earth, White House Down, Drinking Buddies, The Grandmaster, The Conjuring, The Family, Prisoner, Don Jon, Thanks For Sharing, Nebraska, A.C.O.D., Escape Plan, Percy Jackson 2, Last Vegas, Ender's Game, Hunger Games 2, The Counselor, The Call, Delivery Man, Broken City, Homefront, Inside Llewyn Davis, About Time, Anchorman 2, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, Her, August: Osage County
Bubbling Under The Top Ten (in alphabetical order):
12 Years A Slave
Conjures up the horror of slavery as well as any films I've seen.
20 Feet From Stardom
Everybody is a star, but they don't all get the same attention.
AKA Doc Pomus
Maybe not as well put together as one might hope, but with such a great subject it barely matters.
Nicole Holofcener makes small, sweet films, and you think that's easy, try it youself.
Happy People: A Year In The Taiga
Werner Herzog takes us yet again to another place and another people. It did, in its way, look like a happy life, except I'm too used to the warm weather out her.
Wasn't expecting much, but I think this was better than the original.
Some amazing footage and more amazing sound from an era that seems so long ago, but whose influence is still felt today. (And the Ray Coniff singer who protests the war in the White House right in front of Nixon just before singing "Ma He's Making Eyes At Me" is startling.)
Australian soul, and a great performance from Chris O'Dowd.
Yet another fine zombie film--who though the genre could keep working so well.
The Wolf Of Wall Street
Okay, it's overlong, and it often felt like Goodfellas II, but the stuff that did work was a lot of fun.
TOP TEN (in alphabetical order):
I'd been worried about David O. Russell. His last two films may have brought him awards and money, but I thought they were missing something. But this film had what, at his best, he can bring to a film--spirit and humor and a sense that anything can happen.
Generally, mumblecore doesn't do it for me, but this film, shot like a 1980 video, kept getting weirder and weirder until it reached a place few film do.
Dallas Buyers Club
I have no idea how accurate it is, but as a film this story of early underground treatment for AIDS is compelling, and Matthew McConaughey gives a great performance. (It's also a good lesson in how black and grey markets start when you make something the public wants illegal.)
The most delightful animated feature since Tangled. Not surprising, since many of the same people worked on both films.
When you think about it, it's only got two paper-thin characters and the simplest of plots, but who cares? It's dazzling.
In The House (Dans La Maison)
An intriguing mixture of storytelling and a contemplation on storytelling.
How slick ads were used to convince people to vote out Pinochet. (Some say it was a sad day when marketing entered politics, but they're usually the people who wish they had complete control of what the public hears.)
Obsession is a great subject, and the crazier the obsession--in this case, crackpot theories about the meaning of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining--the more fascinating it is. And, using footage from Kubrick and elsewhere, very well put together. Wonder if people will start obsessing about this documentary now.
I knew nothing about Formula One racing and didn't want to know, but that's what movies can do--take you to a time and place you have no interest in and make you care.
Small bits of it seemed to make sense, but essentially--on first viewing, anyway--it's incomprehensible. Yet it still manages, on a microbudget, to be beautiful and touching. (Show this to your friends on a double bill with Computer Chess and then look for new friends.)
Happy birthday, Earl Hooker, a great blues guitarist and yes, cousin to John Lee Hooker.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
The Beginning Is The End
Jesse Walker has taken us through the top ten films of 2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, 1963, 1953, 1943 and 1933. Now he's come upon the silent era, where many films no longer exist, and those that do are harder to see. Thus, he has no top ten list, but he does have a few notes.
Even more productive in 1923 was Buster Keaton, who made his last two silent shorts, The Balloonatic and The Love Nest (like them both, especially the latter), and his first two true Keaton features--Three Ages and Our Hospitality (like them both, especially the latter).
Another film I like is Cecil B. DeMille's silent The Ten Commandments, which, unlike his sound version, is mostly set in the present.
Going back ten years to 1913--a century ago in cinema--Jesse likes the Fantomas serial. I've never seen any of it.
The film world was a wild place in 1913, with moviemakers still developing techniques and trying to establish an industry. You had early versions of Ivanhoe, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, A Christmas Carol, Hamlet, The Sea Wolf, David Copperfield and other titles that would be remade over and over. You had D. W. Griffith making a film a week, some of which are still pretty entertaining. You had Keystone Studios, where they made wild comedies, and where boss Mack Sennett hired some stage comic named Charles Chaplin, though he didn't appear in anything until 1914.
Anyway, now that Jesse is done, I will take over. Tomorrow I'll put up my look at the 2013 film year, so stay tuned.
Guess what, it's the birthday of Chas Smash--instrumentalist and occasional singer and songwriter for Madness. And don't we all need a bit of Madness now and then?
Monday, January 13, 2014
Well, it's happened. Now that the year's started, the grocery store doesn't offer plastic bags any more and paper bags cost 10 cents.
So thank you, government, for taking a system that was working fine and messing with it. Thank you for not really helping anyone and making everyone just a little more miserable. What would we do without you?