Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Where to find stars: an Iraqi protest

I'm from the D.C. area and I found it interesting that in the news segment my radio station reported that the Iraqi protest last weekend had a big protest but many of the people were actually more gawkers than protesters. A large group of people came to meet Sean Penn and Jesse Jackson, apparently. Tim Robbins was also there with wife Susan Sorandon and Hanoi Jane made her big career comeback by protesting the Iraqi war (Monster-in-Law was really a decoy). It was pretty much a sell-out tour.

Seriously, though, I'm not making fun of actors touting liberal causes, everyone has a right to what they believe. I do agree that this can lend itself well to those sort of jokes. In truth, now thatI know that Sean Penn and Tim Robbins were there in person, hell, I would've gone to the protest myself. I would've been like "Hey Sean, how's it going. This war on Iraq totally blows, yeah, say, I have this great idea for a screenplay...." But if you guys are wondering why anyone could be excited with a guy as boring as Sean Penn, let me just say that in a town where the most famous people you catch on the street are Joe Lieberman, Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi (I've met 2 out of 3 of them), Sean Penn is quite exciting by comparison. I mean Sean Penn's portrayal of a politician in All the King's Men would be the life of the party in the House Chamber (provided anyone could make out what he's saying). Seriously, what's so bad about Sean Penn? Why do people think he's uncool. Does anyone remember a little movie called "Fast Time at Ridgemont High" where Sean Penn plays a stoned surfboarder? Whatever he's like in real life, he was responsible for defining cool for a whole generation as Jeff Spicoli. Just like Justin Timberlake brought "Sexyback" (not that I think he neccessarily did), Sean Penn honed all his acting strengths and bought cool back to a generation of American youth that hadn't had a teen icon (Except for Ferris Bueller, John Hughes movies don't have them: there's no one in the brat pack who is the cool one) since James Dean. Of course when the director yelled cut, Penn went on to being serious but he captured coolness in a bottle better than anyone in his day.

I was actually in a protest in Washington D.C. myself once, for about 30 seconds. About 3 years ago, I was walking down 13th street, pretty close to the whitehouse and a horde of protesters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to tell Bush their dissatisfaction about the war or whatever. The pedestrian traffic was really building up at this point because it was this never ending flow of protestors going down Pennsylvania Avenue, and we had to wait until they were all done. Since I needed to be on the other side of town, I just walked right into the swarm and joined the protest for a block or two before getting to the other side of the street.

That was my contribution to the anti-war effort. In case anyone wanted to know, I am against the war, but I really don't think there's anything cool about it anymore. I was against the war when it started, way back in 2003. I thought the war was a bad idea, because you can't go messing around with other nation's sovereignty without a good reason. It is true that the US is the most powerful nation in the world but that doesn't mean that's a permanent thing, we can easily lose favor with people if we go invading nations whenever we want. Also, Iraq was a country run by a brutal dictator but there are a lot of countries run by brutal dictators and we don't have the resources to kill them all, so therefore why pick and chose. This is the kind of stuff I was thinking and saying to people back then, and some agreed and some didn't, but my view now is what's done is done. I hear people saying "in these times of war...." but this doesn't feel like a war to me. My life hasn't been massively restructured the way World War I or World War II massively affected every American. There's not some major shift in the workforce, I'm not being forced to ration on anything like they had to ration on pantyhose and stuff back in the old days (if you say "but what about gas", that's been an issue for decades and no one is really cutting down their driving anyway) , and no one's planting any victory gardens. Also, I understand people wanting to voice their support against the war now, but seriously, it's most of your fault too. You can hate the Bush administration for their stubbornness and being a little too focused on this whole "War on Terror" thing, but let's not act as if the whole war was there fault. Back then, a lot of you were too distracted by the wave of 9/11 patriotism to think clearly about how dumb a war would be.

In essence what I'm saying is that I sort of agree with Bush's argument to Kerry in the 2004 presidential debates of "but you voted for the war too." I'm more Democrat than Republican but I think pretty much everyone messed up, and it seems like no one really wants to be there now anyway.

Monday, January 29, 2007

And the worst career BEFORE winning an oscar goes to....

It seems like there's a parlor game among oscar buffs to talk about who has the worst career post-Oscar.

Richard Roeper has sections in two of his books "10 Sure Signs a Movie Character is Doomed" and "Hollywood Schlock" dedicated to the worst careers post-Oscar. His list (not all of it): F. Murray Abraham for following up his Amadeus win in 1984 with Bonfire of the Vanities, By the Sword, National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1, Last Action Hero, Muppets from Space, Mimic, 13 Ghosts, and Star Trek: Insurrection; Louis Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 1975) for Lady in Red, Mamma Dracula, Two-Moon Junction, Return to Two Moon Junction, High School High; Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite 1995) for Tales of Erotica, Mimic, Wisegirls, Gods and Generals; Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry MaGuire 1996) for What Dreams May Come, Pearl Harbor, Rat Race, Snow Dogs, Boat Trip, The Fighting Temptations, and Radio; and George Chakaris (West Side Story 1961) for Two and Two Make Six and Why Not Stay for Breakfast.

Personally, I really don't care if Adrien Brody follows up an oscar with "The Village" or Ben Kingsley doing "Bloodrayne" or "What Planet Are You From?" (which did feature the oscar-winning and emmy-winning Mike Nicholls as a director) because I applaud actors who experiment and they should be aloud to have a few misses every now and then. In the case of Cuba Gooding Junior, I think he never deserved the oscar to begin with. Looking to someone like F. Murray Abraham who hasn't done much with his oscar clout, it's more a case of feeling sorry for him and not being able to capitalize on the opportunities that an oscar should've brought him than anything else.

One person, that I can't see having a great post-oscar career is Eddie Murphy should he hypothetically win the oscar because I feel like for as long as I've known him, he's clinging to commercialized mediocrity.

It's hillarious, because while swanky Hollywood insider magazines are filled with FYC ads for Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls with high critical praise, the metro (what we call the subway here in D.C., so substitute your hometown's transit system in place if you feel comfortable) is lined with poster-size ads for what looks like the crudest piece of low-brow humor since White Girls in "Norbit" and it stars Eddie Murphy too. Also on the horizon for Eddie Murphy is Shrek the Third. I think both the first two Shreks were good movies but I feel like Shrek the 2nd was conclusive enough to the point where a trilogy wasn't warranted and a sequel would be artistic overkill, and since Norbit looks like a Nutty Professor knock-off, it seems like Murphy is planning on sailing in familiar territory for the time being.

If you're thinking "no, once he wins the oscars, offers will come in and in a couple years, he'll be in a decent movie," I wouldn't count on it. When Ryan Seacrest asked him if there will ever be a Police Academy IV, possibly jokingly, Murphy said he already has a sequel in development. That's not really much of a risk, is it?

So what we have is the next 2 or 3 years going the same way of the last 12 years for Eddie: a career of pretty uninspired mediocrity. Whenever he has a hit like Dr. Doolittle, Nutty Professor, or Beverly Hills Cop, he milks it out for a sequel and in between he makes completely uninspired films like Showtime and I Spy.

That's at least the Eddie Murphy that I know. The Eddie Murphy that I know isn't the same Eddie Murphy who inspired a generation of talented comedians today ranging from Chris Rock to D.L. Hughley. I'm not talking about the Eddie Murphy who singlehandedly revived in SNL in the early 1980's, bcause I'm not familiar with that Eddie Murphy. I've read about this Eddie Murphy in Tom Shales' book "Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live" and I've watch my fair share of SNL, but the episodes from the early 1980s never seem to appear in the syndicated runs of the E! channel or its SNL-broadcasting predecessor Comedy Central. To me, I don't mind if the voters think that Eddie Murphy is the most talented performer for Dreamgirls, but fromo my point of view, I say let's not treat this like a lifetime achievement award. Apparently, there's at least one other person in the blogosphere who feels the same way I do, Jeffery Wells of is offering $100 to anyone who assists him in launching a campaing to ensure that Eddie Murphy doesn't just casually sleepwalk his way to a best supporting nomination. Wells' quotation (lifted from the Toronto Star Blog, actually): “I’ve seen that bored-indifferent, man-am-I-rich, leave-me-alone look on Murphy’s face too many times, and I’d be tickled if the Oscar camera could catch him scowling when Mark Wahlberg or Alan Arkin win instead. He may have the Oscar in the bag, but I keep hearing he’s not very well-liked in the industry and that he’s regarded as a bit of an a--hole. Plus he was too cool to show up for any one of those three swanky Dreamgirls press events that Terry Press threw last year. It’ll just take a little blogosphere surge to make it happen ... maybe. Or maybe not.”

So my big question, Mr. Wells, is can I have $100 now?
I could really use it.
Seriously, I had some thoughts on Eddie Murphy I wanted to express anyway, and I don't think I hold that much sway with the academy (my 2nd cousin once removed is Richard Dreyffus, though), but i can use 100 dollars.

The campaign to improve oscar acceptance speeches

Because I'm trying to get some of the attention from all those oscars-obsessed sites, I thought i'd comment a little bit about some oscar-related topics. One main controvoursey at the Oscars and Golden Globes as far as I can understand as people are always wondering "how can we keep the speeches shorter?" It seems like the people in charge of the Oscar ceremony and everyone involved are making conscious efforts to keep the speeches short, but if they were really determined to keep the speeches short than people might confide in their oscar-nominated friends beforehand, "you know, I know you like me and appreciate what i do for you and you don't have to waste America's time for an extra 3 seconds to let the country know it on national television." But somehow it doesn't work that way. It seems like the winners are somehow obligated to list their influences in front of an audience like it's show-and-tell and it's a mandatory part of Kindergarten class.

Take Hugh Laurie at the Golden Globes, for example. Let me first just say, I loved his speech. I especially like the part about how he said, "I want to thank my crew, because they're truly great. Now, logically we can't all have great crews. Somewhere, there's someone operating with a crew of drunken thieves. But that's not our crew, our crew is great." And that's absolutely true! When every actor praises their crew and costars when asked about them in interviews, it just becomes an exercise in political correctness and none of it really feels sincere.

What was also interesting about Laurie's speech was how he remarked on how he wishes he had a speech on him. Well, from the standpoint of an audience member, I'm perfectly happy you don't have a speech on you, it means the ceremony is going to go quicker. But nevertheless, he did give a speech because "that was the thing to do." I remember the 2004 Oscars, Charlie Kaufman really was uncomfortable with public speaking and stated he just wanted his speech to be over. Charlie buddy, relax! You just won an oscar, your life and career will be drastically improved. This should be a time of celebration for you, just do what you want. If the speech is that much of a hastle, Charlie, just say thanks, and get off the stage.

But it seems like people have to earn their oscar with a speech, like it's a silent agreement. Well, if that's the case who's the agreement between, anyway? Is the agreement between the presenter and the people running the ceremony and, if so, why? Do the people running the ceremony demand that the stars get on stage and speak a little for the entertainment benefit of the audience? Because, if so, the speeches don't really seem aimed at entertainment, per say. It doesn't personally entertain me to hear a laundry list of names anymore than watching the end credits of a movie entertain me. If these awards ceremonies are really entertainment, have the stars get up and juggle or so. Since we're rewarding there acting, I'd love to see them (especially stars like Kate Winslet, Naiomi Watts, Hugh Laurie, and Christain Bale who are really talented at accents) jump into their character for a couple lines and spit off a couple quotes from their movies. Maybe Julia Roberts could've accepted her award for Erin Brockovitch in character and acted like a total bitch (which would've been a change of pace from her annoyingly phony smiley self), Jamie Foxx could have played a little piano when he won for Ray, George Clooney could have shot someone when he won as an assassin for Syrianna, etc. Someone actually did this in 2004: the best original song winner got on stage sang the song himself (it was performed that night by Antonio Banderas), said thank you and got off. From watching the post-win interviews that year, I'd say it was pretty unanimously the best loved acceptance speech from the folks in the press room.

But I digress. With this precedent set, the fact that remains that it has now become the de facto proper etiquette for the nominees to read off a laundry list of names, so it would just be flat-out rude to not give a long list of names of everyone associated with you or your production, boring as it may be. And with Hollywood having a reputation of being composed of shallow self-serving people, it's hard to blame people for wanting to show grattitude. It's also really hard to blame someone for speaking their heart out. Some people (at least one or two on a messageboard I frequent) complained about Jamie Foxx's lack of originality (he already gave it at the Golden Globes) or oversentimentality when he gave that speech thanking his grandmother and crying, but personally I just don't feel that that's up for judgement. I think it's their moment and an oscar winner saying whatever he truly feels and thanking his grandmother, is not something we have a right to criticize. But, as I've said all along, I just wish that the majority of them didn't have to be so boring.

One of the only times in recent years I've seen anyone breaking this contract of mass-thanking was Stephen Sodebergh upon his win for Traffic. He said "I have some people that I want to thank but I'll thank them in private. Instead, I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if it’s a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theater, a piece of music. Anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us. I think the world would be unlivable without art.”

What a beautiful speech! It makes me almost want to forgive him for Ocean's 12. It also makes me want to write and blog even more for my possibly non-existent audience, because he inspires me to make art just for art's sake.

My only question is how many people got pissed off at him for their 2 seconds of fame being taken away by not hearing their name heard? Maybe, they didn't get pissed off. Maybe they didn't care, and if that's the case, why do many people feel obliged to name so many names in every other oscar speech in the last ten years?

Review of 2002 film About a Boy

Adapted from Nick Hornsby's cleverly written and fun novel, I found this movie immensely enjoyable. Hugh Grant stars as Will, who differs from most of us in such a fundamental way that it makes him a very interesting guy. What makes Will out-of-sync with the world is that his late father once wrote a famous and with the royalties he collects from it, he doesn't have to work to sustain himself financially. The downside of this, of course, is that he doesn't have anything substantial or fulfilling in his life but he's very comfortable with that, at least at the beginning of the story.

What changes Will's life is the inadvertent introduction of a 12-year old boy and his suicidal mother (Toni Collette) into his life when a scheme to meet an attractive mom backfires. Like some of the best relationships in life, Will's with the 12-year old Marcus is involuntary at first but the two learn a lot from each other. With a of fear of losing his mother and an uneasiness about whom he can depend on, Will gives Marcus someone to look up to, while Marcus enables Will to find meaning in his life, especially when Will meets a woman he feels he might be able to fall in love with (Rachel Weicz).

This is the second Hugh Grant film that I've seen this year, which surprises me considering I still don't think Hugh Grant works most of the time. I credit this to an excellent adaptation of Hornsby's novel that adds more depth to Grant's role than the usual bumbling romantic lead, and also because within the setting of London Grant works better within the cultural context. The boy who plays Marcus is a cute kid who's easy to dislike at the beginning, but proves pretty bright when he takes Will's immensely useful tip that it is possible to change his level of coolness simply by changing some of the little things in his appearance (getting a haircut, buying new shoes, etc). Watching that scene warmly brings back memories of that monumental day in our own lives when it dawned upon is after years of feeling hopeless within our grade school social circles that it is, in fact, possible to change your level of coolness. The film is filled with a lot of those little things in life we can relate to so much more than we thought we would.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Michael J Fox speaks out

It is a very unfortuante thing about the state of society today that there are so many people that they're bound to run the full range of opinions about anyone thing. Every political and public figure has a few people that aren't fans and naturally, every movie has at least a few critics. If you can get 80% of critics nationwide to agree that your film is a thumbs up, you might stand a good chance at dividends come oscar season. Now, on the subect of politics, take Michael J. Fox. This is a guy a genuinely great guy who has a cause he truly believes in: advocating stem cell research. Of course, this is no small part because he has it, but he's fighting to shed his celebrity image and do everything in his power to push what he believes in. He's also exhibiting great courage by appearing in a very poor physical state on TV where he can easily be made fun of or ridiculed, in hopes that people will look past that, and see his issue.

Naturally, there are a few of the 769 comments on youtube who have some negative things to say about him, whether it's that he's selfish or that they disagree with his issue, but common sense is prevailing on the board and most people see him for what he is. Detractors and cynics are to be expected, but what's definitely hard to believe, is that one of those on the very far out-of-tune-with-reality on the end of the spectrum is a national celebrity with his own syndicated radio show: Rush Limbaugh, who made some of the kind of really insensitive comments that you might see reported on youtube or another messageboard, but instead they were made by a guy who evidently must have some kind of big fanbase holding him up and supporting his right to make such insensitive statements. Nevertheless, I liked Michael J Fox's interview and I don't feel like it's devisive at all, so here's the link to it, on youtube, at least:

“I called Rush Limbaugh and he told me ‘I believe democrats have a history of using victims of various things as various spokespeople because they believe they are untouchable and infallible. they are immune from criticism. Michael J Fox is stumping for various candidates and is open to criticism. I think we all are’

This is Michael J. Fox's response to
“First thing, he used the word ‘victim.’ In another occasion, he used the word “pitiable.” And understand no one in this situation wants pity. I couldn’t give a damn about Rush Limbaugh’s pity or anyone else’s pity. I’m not a victim. I’m just in this situation and I’m in this situation with I think millions of other Americans, and we have a right if there’s answers out there to pursue those answers with the full support of our politicians. I don’t need anyone’s permission to do that…..To just get people for two minutes to go this is big, this is not a wedge issue, this is about who we are as a country and how we treat out people. I want to make the point that if people are against stem cell research, embryonic otherwise, or whatever, I couldn’t respect them more. If they’ve prayed on it, and they’ve thought about it, and they can’t get their head around it, than great, I admire them and I respect them. All I say to them respectively, is that if there’s a majority that also prays fully, and emotionally, and intellectually, and in every other way, weighs this and came to the other side and said “no I think this is the right thing to do” to very carefully tread these waters to save these lives, than you have to respect that too. And don’t resort to name calling and mocking or whatever you else need to do, just have a discussion about it and see what happens.”
-Michael J Fox

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How the AFI 100 Movies list changed my life

I don't know, yet, if this is a good or bad thing that AFI is redoing it's top 100 list but I thought i'd put it out there. I think it's possibly a bad thing because I just have always set the first one as the gold standard of what's a film classic, so I'm sorry to see it go, but alas film is a changing art.

I do want to say that the release of the first list pretty much changed my life as it was that list that made me want to learn about classic film. I remember when I heard there was a list out, and I tried to guess what might be on the list. I made a list of what I thought were the best movies of all time. It was a really pathetic list based on the pictures I had seen: There was Cool Runnings and the Mighty Ducks and an obscure Vincente Mineli musical I liked called Kismet, among other things. It was to my amazement, that the list itself was made up of movies I had never even heard of, let alone seen. I was completely taken aback, and furious. I wanted to know what could all these movies have that the Mighty Ducks didn't have, and the next summer, I didn't have a job and with my free time, I went to the library and started checking out some of these classic movies: The African Queen, Bringing Up Baby, The Graduate, Network, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, All About Eve, All Quiet on the Western Front, and that's where my interest was born that I have kept up to the present day.

I kind of did like how the old list was set in stone and I think it's a very good list as is, and i don't want trends of the minute tampering with it. It's very rare that a group of people attempting to nominate the best films of all time ever gets anything remotely right, so why mess with success.

One thing the AFI did was not let short-term memory get to them. Their list was released in 1998, I believe, and their most recent film was 1996's Fargo. They didn't let the Titanic box-office juggernaut cloud their judgement, nor were they impressed enough by those hotshots from Boston, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, to include Good Will Hunting on the list. The list lists 7 films from the 90's: Goodfellas, Dances with Wolves, Silence of the Lambs, Schindler's List, Unforgiven, Pulp Fiction, and Forrest Gump, which I think is a reasonable call for panelists to judge a film by in 1998. Those films had safely passed the test of time by then. I might have been iffy about Silence of the Lambs as anything more than a horror film, even though it did win the academy award, but I think its also remembered as Anthony Hopkins' high career point, and it has a psychological depth to it. Sure, they could have included more cult classics like The Piano, Braveheart or the Shawshneck Redemption but I think they were right to be cautious about letting in too many films from the present day. A classic does need time to age. Also, Shawshnack Redemption's reputation has grown over time, wierdly enough. An indication of this is Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbin's oscars for films in 2004 and 2003, respectively. Now that people have seen a certain cultural prejudice in Mel Gibson, it might have been wise not to include Braveheart on the list back then to a degree that no one would have ever realized. Braveheart did make the voter's top 10, interestingly enough.

I'd expect if the list were to be redone that Clint Eastwood with his recent hot streak, would have a retroactively enhanced reputation (even though he's done some really bizarre and awful films in his early career) and you might see a Sergio Leone film make an appearance as well as a higher rating for Unforgiven. Mystic River might make the cut. I think Shawshneck Redemption would probably make the list, and lately there seems to be a love and a higher appreciation for Warren Beatty, even though I don't believe he's done anything since the last list came out. They might include Reds or Bugsy. I think this had to do with the Reds DVD.

I also would expect Touch of Evil to make the list. It's truly a masterpiece that belongs on the top 25 or 50 films ever made, and now that it's reedited version has been released (it was released in 1996 according to director Orson Welles' original wishes) and everyone has seen it, I think it would make it. I also have heard that there's been a critical reevaluation for Robert Mitchum so he might do better this time around. Since Stanley Kubrick died, there's been a very positive reevaluation of him, and he might have another film like Full Metal Jacket or the Shining make the list. I think Buster Keaton's The General will make the list since people were a little peeved about that. I might also expect Mean Streets to make the list since there's more of a Scorsesee appreciation.

I felt Grand Hotel and Back to the Future got raw deals the first time around, so I'll pull for them. In fact, I might very well be voting on the list myself, since I can join the AFI for 50 dollars (anyone can, actually).

Book review: Conversations with Billy Wilder

I just read the book Conversations with Billy Wilder and it reminds me a little of Tuesdays with Morie only the interviewee and the interviewer are both famous. Cameron Crowe, most people know from "Jerry MaGuire" and "Almost Famous," but it's a shame not enough people know about Billy Wilder, because he was one of the greatest film geniuses who ever lived. He made some of the most definitive film noirs in Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity, a great war film in Stalag 17, the first film to feature an alcoholic in the oscar-winning The Lost Weekend, the definitive love story in Sabrina (remade in the 1990s), and some of the funniest comedies ever made in The Apartment and Some Like it Hot. To be able to take such sharp wit and use it to explore such dark moods as well as humor was something no one did better than Wilder. What I knew of Wilder before was that he was a German immigrant (he came in the wave along with Premminger, Lang, Dymitrick, and Lubitsch). I also knew that he always wrote his films as well as directed them and that he wrote with collaborators.

The idea for the film, covered in the introduction, started when Cameron Crowe came to Billy Wilder's office wanting him to play a small part in Jerry MaGuire and Wilder was like "yeah, maybe, give me a call," but he was kind of old and senile at the time and he forgot about it and didn't return his phone calls. So Crowe positions an intern outside his office and Wilder never comes out of his office, and in the meantime, Crowe is bragging to everyone how he got the famous Billy Wilder to be in his movie. Eventually, Wilder answers his phone and is like "leave me alone, go away." So on the first day of production when Wilder doesn't show up, Cameron Crowe explains with dissapointment that Wilder turned him down, and Tom Cruise offers to go with him (Crowe) personally to his house, since his agent kows where it is, to try to convince him to be in the film. They hold up production for like an hour visiting Wilder, and Cruise is trying to charm him and they're explaining that they just want him to be in it for symbolic purposes, and he says "no, i'm not an actor, you've got the wrong guy, pick someone else." He does give them some script advice, and chat with Cruise, answering questions about his films for him. They finally give up and shoot the movie without him. When the movie's successful Wilder gives Crowe a call and congratulates him and a mutual friend suggests a book deal, and slowly Crowe wears Wilder down into revealing the secrets of his life and work.

With Cameron Crowe it's not like an interview, but it's like chatting from one writer-director to another and covers all of his movies, collaborations and writing methods in depth. They don't get too technical about it, so it's not boring at all. Wilder also spouts his views on movies that he thought sucked (he didn't like Titanic), and ones that he thought were awesome, and is pretty funny about it. Wilder had this very refreshing blue collar attitude about his job as a movie director. He absolutely wanted to make a good product out of his films, but he didn't take himself seriously and that was refreshing. He had a very systematic, almost mathematical, mind to writing his screenplays (he was more passionate about the writing than the directing, it seemed) where he treated it like a puzzle and took joy in trying to work his way through the obstacles.

He was a big, big admirer of Lubitsch who he once wrote a script for. It was almost like he worshipped him. I say that because like those WWJD bracelets that Christian youth group members where today, Wilder had a sign in his office that says "What would Lubitsch do?" He explains, that when he's stuck in a writing, he tries to imagine how his mentor would have done it. Personally, I found that odd because I've always felt Lubitsch was an inferior version of Wilder, but that's just me.

My favorite part of the book was when Cameron Crowe, who's a former rock journalist asked Billy Wilder about whether he liked rock and roll and he was like "no, that was all crap, it's all for the young kids" and he didn't even know what MTV was. He was like "back in the day we had Ira Gershwin and Rogers and Hammerstein to chose from, no one's better than they were." That must have been dissapointing to Crowe.

Monday, January 22, 2007

my oscar predictions

I've been looking through some of these oscar sites and have devised my own predictions but I think the oscar sites are having this problem of perceiving that "oscar buzz" is some sort of wildly fluctuating barometer. One of the oscar sites I went to, described "Pan's Labrynth" and "Children of Men" as surging ahead. I think in reality, film's aren't surging or falling in some kind of race, it's simply that our perception of how the films are changing as some new group comes out with an award. That might be part of the fun, anyway, that people love the oscar race so much. Nevertheless, even though i am somewhat tired, i thought i would make some predictions in the event that i am completely right and have noone to tell that to. By posting them with a timestamp that comes before the oscars are announced, i have some proof.

My predictions aren't really that far off from what anyone else has. They're in order of the degree of certainty that they'll be nominated, not n
Best Picture:
1. Departed
2. Dreamgirls
3. Babel
4. The Queen
5. Letters from Iwo Jima
Runner-Up: Little Miss Sunshine
I loved Little Miss Sunshine, but i thought i'd mix it up. I still don't see why people wouldn't vote for Letters from Iwo Jima. Honestly, though, i really can't decide between the two, but i'll take a risk. Queen, like Capote last year, is good but not great. Not grandiose or bold enough in ambition to really feel like an oscar contender, but it will unfortunately make the list anyway. Still, not so bad. To have Dreamgirls, Babel, Departed and either Letters of Little Miss Sunshine makes it a great year.

1. Martin Scorsesee, The Departed
2. Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Babel
3. Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
4. Stephen Frears, The Queen
5. Bill Condon, Dreamgirls
Runner-Up: Guillermo del Toro, Pan's Labrynth
Everyone's all over Pan's Labrynth lately, and I'm starting to think it might possibly be a masterpiece of a film that the academy would be foolish not to reward, but here in this category, i think it's a bit competitive.
Iwo Jima is getting 4 star reviews all across the board and has already won a golden globe as well as the NBR, it would be foolish to think Eastwood would get left out and that some of the Iwo Jima buzz is lost. He's the success story of the decade. I also really can't see how Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu could not get a best director nom. He's one of the top 3 pictures and next to Scorsesee, i think he's the most secure director. People have their doubts about Condon a little and The Queen was seen more as a triumph in acting, but they all have a better chance than that married couple. For mixing-up purposes, I don't like, though when the directors and films match up, so perhaps i'd want Sunshine to get the picture nom and Eastwood to get the director nom.

Original Screenplay:
1. The Queen
2. Little Miss Sunshine
3. Babel
4. Stranger than Fiction
5. Pan's Labrynth
Runner-Up: Bobby
I think Bobby is an endearing piece that wins the audience over emotionally and not neccessarily technically (as in, you're thinking "what a great storyline!"). The storyline's a bit muddled up with too many unneccessary parts, but i'm rooting for it heavily. Stranger than Fiction was a superbly written screenplay and i hope it gets a part, and Pan's Labrynth I'll give Bobby's spot to. Little Miss Sunshine is very deserving.

Adapted Screenplay:
1. William Moynahan, The Departed
2. Todd Field and Tom Perrota, Little Children
3. Patrick Marber, Notes on a Scandal
4. William Boyle and Paul Haggis, Flags of Our Fathers
5. Garrison Keillor, Prairie Home Companion
Runner-Up: Bill Condon, Dreamgirls
The screenplay awards are often an unofficial top 10 list from the academy, as they give an indication of what the academy might have nominated if they were aloud 5 extra films in the best picture category. That being said, Little Children was a top 10 film, pretty much, and it's writing-heavy so people are pretty eager to reward it there. The Departed is a certainty, pretty much due to the best picture lock and due to the fact that people are familiar with the source material and like what Scorsesee and Co. did with it. Notes on a Scandal's Patrick Marber just missed out on a nomination 2 years ago for his adaptation of Closer, so he'll get rewarded here, I think. People are not considering the fondness people had for Rob Altman and that should lend itself to a screenplay nom, in my opinion. Flags, while having been overshadowed by Iwo Jima, was still considered by many people to be an impressive film, and they like what they did with the adaptation. Thank You For Smoking, I'm not rooting for and I think it was too early in the year. Devil Wears Prada, I just think is too lightweight. In fact, I'm surprised that other groups have given Devil Wears Prada such praise and I think that maybe the academy will come to their senses and realize it's not that good. Since Dremagirls is up for best picture, and Condon has a couple noms under his built, one of which was for adapting a musical to the screen, I think if the Dreamgirls love is heavy enough, he'll get a nom.

Best Actor:
1. Leo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
2. Forest Whitaker, Last King of Scotland
3. Peter O'Toole, Venus
4. Will Smith, Pursuit of Happyness
5. Ryan Gosling, Half-Nelson
Runner-Up: Ken Wattanabe, Letters from Iwo Jima (also Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat)
I think that DiCaprio will get enough votes for both of his parts to guarantee him at least one it onto the list. In other words, even if his votes are split between two roles, you can divide his votes in half and I think he'd still make it. Whitaker, O'Toole, and Smith have been locks for a while, and while some people are thinking that Sacha Baron Cohen will make it onto the shortlist, I hope that won't happen. It's simply because Baron Cohen wasn't acting in the conventional sense and why not award it to an actor like Gosling.

1. Helen Mirren, The Queen
2. Penelope Cruz, Volver
3. Meryl Streep, Devil Wears Prada
4. Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
5. Kate Winslet, Little Children
Runner-Up: Annette Benning, Running with Scissors
I think the categories been set for a while with Winslet and Benning being interchangeable. I do think Benning is the spoiler, though, and not Gyllenhall. I really don't think that many people, even among the academy, have even seen Sherrybaby, and they might not have picked it out from under their screeners.

Supporitng Actor:
1. Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
2. Djimon Hotsou, Blood Diamond
3. Michael Sheen, The Queen
4. Ben Affleck, Hollywoodland
5. Brad Pitt, Babel
Runner-Up: Jack Nicholson, The Departed
I'm putting two people i'd love to see in this category: Affleck and Hotsou, and balancing that with someone I don't really want, because I don't think karma would be that kind to me, to give me both Affleck and Hotsou and not have a complete dud in there as well. I think that Hotsou has a very charismatic performance and if he got a nomination for In America from an underdog position, he can certainly do it again.

Eddie Murphy, I think is rediculous. Some people remember him from his brilliant SNL days, but for someone who grew up in the 90s and haven't had a chance to see a lot of the 80's SNL episodes (they're not the ones that show in syndication, usually), Eddie Murphy to me, is a guy who makes bad movies (Pluto Nash, Showtime, Bowfinger). Still, Murphy to me is the lesser of two evils. I'm playing with karma here again, because i don't want Nicholson to be nominated again. Don't get me wrong, I like Nicholson, I just don't love him and don't want to see his legacy rise too high above other actors that I think were better than him. I realistically think it would take a miracle for him not to get the nom but here's hoping.

Ben Affleck, I think is very much still in the race as is Brad Pitt from Babel and Michael Sheen, who i didn't even particularly like, I would have trouble believing he'd be left out. A great portion of the acedemy has British roots or have performed in England in some capacity so to see someone do that good of an impression of Tony Blair can't be disregarded. I just don't like Michael Sheen though. That guy has some nerve daring to enter show business and not changing his last name. He clearly wants people to believe that he's a member of the Sheen family so he can ride the coattails of Martin and Charlie, but no sir. If it were up to me, I'd love to see Wahlberg in the top 5 for The Departed, but I don't think karma will be that kind.

Also, Jackie Earl Haley, I think came onboard a little too late. Alan Arkin doesn't have enough screentime, and I don't see the point in awarding a courtesy nomination to a veteran, when unlike Alan Alda in 2004, he already has a couple nominations under his belt and he won't win, I'm pretty sure.

Supporting Actress:
1. Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
2. Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
3. Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
4. Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
5. Adriana Barranza, Babel
Runner-Up: Emily Blunt, Devil Wears Prada
Somehow, I think Breslin or Barranza might not make it through, and I want to do something unpredictable just to distinguish myself. Everyone else has this top 5, but the bottom line is i like this line-up. I like Babel's international stars getting acclaim, I'd like to see Breslin, and while I'm not so crazy about Blanchett, she deserves it too. Personally, I felt Emily Blunt was the second best supporting female performance i saw this year (behind Meryl Streep's Prairie Home Companion turn) but I don't want to see Devil Wears Prada get too many awards. I could also see Sharon Stone getting in here.

1. Babel
2. Good German
3. Apocolypto
4. Letters from Iwo Jima
5. Blood Diamond
Runner-Up: Children of Men
Good German might have gotten bad reviews but Sodebergh went to great lengths to get the film stock pretty much exactly as it was 50 years ago, i can't believe he'd be snubbed for cinematography. I think Pan's Labrynth will get a nom in the art direction category rather than this one. Blood Diamond should get a nom, in my opinion, for doing the dirty work of going on location and I think the resulting shots speak for themselves.

Art Direction:
1. Pan's Labrynth
2. Apocolypto
3. Children of Men
4. Dreamgirls
5. Bobby
Runner-Up: Letters from Iwo Jima
Bobby recreated that hotel pretty impressively, Pan's Labrynth, Apocolypto and Children of Men are all about the art direction. Dreamgirls, a lavish musical lends itself well to that stuff.

1. "Song of the Heart" Prince, Happy Feet
2. "Never Gonna Break My Faith" Arethra Franklin, Mary J Blige, Bobby
3. "A Father's Way" Seal, Pursuit of Happyness
4. "Shine on them" Nas, Blood Diamond
5. "Till the End of Time" DeVotchka, Little Miss Sunshine
Runner-Up: "Our Town" Thomas Newman, Cars
I think this is a song line-up I can live with. Blood Diamond's "Shine on Them" is about a subject which the songwriter is clearly passionate about. Seal gets a nomination for "Pursuit of Happyness" because he's Seal and he'll rock the Oscar awards ceremony. "Till the End of Time" is an awesome song that certainly complements the indie feel of the movie and adds another nomination for Little Miss Sunshine. "Never Gonna Break My Faith" is a collaboration of a past and present great and it gives a nom to Bobby which I'm happy with. Lastly, I'm not a big fan of anything called "Song of the Heart" as it sounds like a dumb song title, but since it won at the golden globes i'm inclined not to leave it out.

1. Dreamgirls
2. Pan's Labrynth
3. Flags of Our Fathers
4. Apocolypto
5. Little Miss Sunshine
Runner-Up: Marie Antoinette
Again, since Dreamgirls is a showy musical, it's gotta have costumes. Pan's Labrynth has costumes that are impressive, I imagine. Flags of Our Fathers is a period military piece and has more recognizeable costumes than Letters and Little Miss Sunshine, I just happened to notice the way everyone in the family was dressed so much like their personalities and in colors that were finely tuned to the film's atmosphere.

1. Happy Feet
2. Cars
3. Over the Hedge
Runner-Up: Ice Age 2
I haven't seen what anyone else put for this category but I'd imagine Happy Feet, having made the AFI top 10, is probably in. I think Cars is in and not just because it's Pixar, but because it actually is good and has some fans. Over the Hedge vs. Ice Age 2 is a harder pick. Over the Hedge was a fairly cleverly executed piece, I felt, although it was nothing special enough to stand out on its own. Still, Ice Age 2 is a sequel and sequels are just unoriginal vehicles that are designed to cash in on the popularity of their predecessor.

Visual Effects:
1. Pirates of the Carribean 2: Dead Man's Chest
2. X-Men 3
3. Superman Returns
Runner-Up: Poseidon
I think Poseidon is too CGIish to be impressive, but it has its moments. X-Men 3, possibly even more so than its predecessors had some very impressive visuals to boast. Bringing Magneto's metal-manipulating powers, Storm's hurricanes, Pyro's fire and Iceman's ice to life are all very impressive. Superman Returns was a failure of a movie because of its storyline and not because of its special effects, which even i concede were impressive. Lastly, the conversion from Bill Nighy to Davy Jones is enough to cement the visual effects oscar right there.

The rest of the categories, I'm really not qualified to give an opinion on, so I'll refrain.

Friday, January 19, 2007

10 biggest oscar injustices of the decade

Biggest Oscar Mistakes of the Decade so far:

1. Denzel Washington winning over Russell Crowe in Training Day for best actor, 2001
Crowe gave an amazing performance as mathematician John Nash and was considered one of the two front-runners for the best actor award along with Washington . To some extent, Russell was hurting himself. He apparently got really angry and barked at the orchestra conductor for cutting him off at the BAFTA awards when he was giving his Oscar Award Acceptance Speech and his reputation as a jerk was starting to catch up to him. What was truly ridiculous, though, was that Queen-of-Hollywood Julia Roberts said she couldn’t imagine a world in which Denzel Washington didn’t have an oscar. Uh, did she forget about his best supporting actor oscar for Glory? If best supporting doesn’t count in Julia’s mind, I’d like to see her break the news to Sean Connery, Anjelica Huston, Shelley Winters, Joe Pesci, Michael Caine, Judi Dench and the like. Plus, the Oscars had Sidney Poitier as the Honorary Award Winner, so the votes were transparently an effort to make it African-American appreciation night. If the academy was a little more patient in crowning a worthy successor to Sidney Poitier as lead actor winner, it could have waited 3 more years for Jamie Foxx or another possibly another 2 after that when Forest Whitaker takes the lead oscar award this February.

2. Cold Mountain losing best songs and score to Lord of the Rings, 2003
I can’t imagine an Annie Lennox song would ever beat a song written by Sting in a music competition, EXCEPT when a song written by Annie Lennox appears on the end credits of a steamrolling juggernaut like Lord of the Rings while Sting’s beautifully haunting song appears in the film A Cold Mountain which didn’t have as good of a run at the Oscars. In addition, Lennox’s song was just a bland ballot while Sting and Krauss’ song You Will be my Ain True Love as well as the song The Scarlett Tide cowritten by Krauss and T-Bone Burnett, both organically blended into Civil War North Carolina ’s bluegrass setting, which is what a good movie song should do. The artists who contributed music to the film went on a hit national tour that summer “The Cold Mountain Music Tour.” Was there a “Lord of the Rings” soundtrack tour?
My problem with this win was twofold. First, Lord of the Rings’ steamrolling through ever oscar category made for the most boring ceremony I’ve ever seen and nowhere more than the best song (and best score category) was it evident that voters were just penciling in Lord of the Rings for everything rather than thinking about it on a category-by-category basis. Second, movie songs have the potential to be the next biggest category after picture, acting, and directing due to their crossover appeal but not when their credibility is ruined with wins like this. I’m not a rap fan, but even I admit that Eminem’s win in 2002 for 8 Mile and Three Six Mafia’s win for Hustle and Flow were necessary to keep the category relevant for contemporary times.

3. Bennett Miller’s best director nomination and Capote’s best picture nomination, 2005
I have to admit that I am in the extreme minority of film critics (the exact figure from is an incredibly low 9%) in disliking Capote, but I disliked the film for resting too heavily on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance (which failed in my eyes, because it didn’t convince us that he was as exciting of a figure to be around as much as his biographer and the movie needed us to believe). Although Two Towers is a close second, Capote would have to be the least worthy picture of the decade so far. If you take Hoffman’s performance out of the equation, it’s slow and circuitous.
This is made all the worse by considering the competition that year. 2005 seemed to me to be the deepest year of oscar contending films I’ve ever witnessed. Normally, there are about 10 or 11 pictures that have lofty enough ambitions, excellent enough critical praise and sufficient public enthusiasm to vie for nomination honors (i.e roughly 11 for 2003: Lord of the Rings, Big Fish, Lost in Translation, In America, House of Sand and Fog, Seabiscuit, 21 Grams, Last Samurai, Master and Commander, Mystic River, Cold Mountain and 11 for 2004: Hotel Rwanda, Aviator, Closer, Kinsey, Eternal Sunshine, Phantom of the Opera, The Incredibles, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways), but 2005 had over 15: Brokeback Mountain, Munich, Crash, Good Night and Good Luck, Capote, Walk the Line, The Constant Gardener, A History of Violence, Match Point, New World, King Kong, Syrianna, Cinderella Man, Cache, Squid and the Whale, Rent and Pride and Prejudice.
Even worse than a failure to get the best picture nod is that for the first time in 24 years, this just happened to be the year when all five pictures aligned with all 5 directing nominations. If there was a better time to spread the wealth around, I can’t think of a better year. Peter Jackson proved he could do more than nerdy stories about middle-earth and took King Kong and transcended the blockbuster by getting many 4-star reviews and taking it up to 5th on critical top ten appearances for the year. Fernando Meirelles crossed over to the English language and explored a new continent with career-best performances for Ralph Feinnes and Rachel Weicz and a solid adaptation of a John La Carrerre novel in The Constant Gardener. Woody Allen turned in his best work in decades and changed his tone completely in Matchpoint. Terrence Malick had a brilliant return-to-form in The New World and David Cronenberg pleased audiences and critics alike with A History of Violence. Even if you liked the movie Capote, you’d have to be a little worried about the integrity of your category if you’re going to invite someone who’s only previous credit was the ’98 documentary The Cruise and probably just lucked out with a good slate of actors, into that prestigious group of Oscar-nomination directors.

4. Big Fish’s snub in pretty much everything, 2003
Big Fish was the first victim in what perhaps could be a very long line of victims from the movement of the Oscar ceremony back a month early. It was a rare Oscar contender that scored big numbers in the box office and nearly beat out Lord of the Rings: Return of the King during its January opening (initial box office reports deemed it 1st for the weekend) aside from being considered a high-water mark in Tim Burton’s career. But with Oscar season ballots being due a month or two sooner, it had little chance to be viewed by anyone and only earned one nomination: best score. The same thing happened to Terrence Malick’s brilliant The New World (only shown in an uncut version in 2 theaters nationwide on December 29th and 30th before opening in wide release in mid-January and similarly only earned a single nomination in the cinametography category) a month later and it could easily happen this year with late entries this year such as Letters of Iwo Jima or Pan’s Labrynth, although the extreme build-up of films in the last two weeks of the year isn’t a good thing.

5. Lord of the Ring: Two Towers ’ Nomination for best picture over Far From Heaven, 2002
Even though I liked A Beautiful Mind and felt it worthy of the best picture award, I kind of wish that Lord of the Rings won, or at least it won a few awards that year, just so it wouldn’t dominate the Oscars the next two years and take so many worthy awards away from other films. Considering this was the second in a trilogy and voters could’ve easily waited for Return of the King to atone for Fellowship’s loss, which they were planning on doing anyway, this was a complete waste of a perfectly useful best picture nomination on another worthy film. Far From Heaven, widely considered to have been sixth in line for the nomination, was a well-crafted homage to the Douglas Sirk movies of the 1950s and would have been far more widely remembered today if it had a best picture nomination to give it a longer shelf life.

6. The Aviator’s supporting acting snubs: Alan Alda over Alec Baldwin and Cate Blanchett over Kate Beckinsdale in the Aviator, 2004
Alec Baldwin’s part was a meatier one than fellow nominee Alan Alda and required far more range. He displayed a little bit of a different tone as the standard tough guy role that he usually plays and that he was nominated for the previous year in The Cooler. An astute observer might have seen that it was an equally worthy performance as The Cooler and possibly more worthy. His character in The Aviator wasn’t completely ruthless, it was more shades of gray. He was ruthless underneath a veneer of diplomacy.
In chosing between the love interests of Leo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes for an oscar nomination, the academy also got it wrong. Kate Beckinsdale was more deserving of a nomination than Cate Blanchett, in my opinion. Blanchett probably got the nomination because of her higher profile and because she played perennial Oscar winner Katherine Hepburn, while Beckinsdale played Ava Gardner, who had never won one. If you take out the factor of who the two were portraying, you’ll find that Beckinsdale played the more interesting character and had more meaningful moments in her scenes with DiCaprio. Blanchett’s win in a crowded category that included National Board of Review winner Virginia Madsen for “Sideways” and Laura Linney for “Kinsey” was an even greater injustice.

7. Catherine Zeta-Jones’ win over Meryl Streep in the best supporting actress category in 2002
Aside from the fact that Streep had the best performance in the category and one of her best in years, Zeta-Jones’ win was flat-out illogical for the fact that she didn’t really resonate past the singing and dancing of the performance. It was clear the Oscar committee felt the need to reward the ensemble effort of Chicago with an acting oscar of some sort. Aside from creating an ensemble category which would really make sense in these situations, if they felt a need to award an oscar to someone, I would have gone for Rene Zellweger, who, for my money, was deserving of an oscar in her category anyway. While Kidman in “The Hours” and Moore in “Far From Heaven” were both carefully studied portraits that were deserving as well, Zellweger was the heart and soul of Chicago and infused a surface that was all about glitz and glamour with emotional vulnerability.

8. Chocolat’s best picture nomination, 2000
I read the book Inside Oscar 2 which had the backstory on the oscar race and apparently it did test very well with audiences and critics nationwide. I saw about a third of this picture so I’m not really in a position to comment on it but it seemed incredibly lightweight and its incredibly transparent theme of chocolate as a metaphor for joy and freedom from class-mandate oppression almost seemed like a parody of the heavier themes that Oscar films usually contain.

9. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s extreme front-runner status for Capote, 2005
I don’t think Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s win for Capote was a ridiculous choice, so much as I thought it was ridiculous how much of a leg up Hoffman had over the competition. Hoffman did a spot-on impression of iconic author Truman Capote, but so did co-nominees Joaquin Pheonix and David Strathain. Pheonix’s channeling of Cash’s repressed anger in “Walk the Line” was downright disturbing and should have given him serious consideration for an oscar in any given year, and Strathain’s ice-cold subtleties as Edward R. Murrow in “Good Night and Good Luck” was very affecting. While Strathain didn’t have the opportunities for the intense moments that Hoffman or Pheonix’s parts came with, you appreciate the magnitude of Murrow’s presence when he’s debating the real-life Senator McCarthy (taken through archival footage) and looks convincing doing it. It seemed throughout the oscar race, that Hoffman was a certain winner from the start, and I just found it disappointing that not even a few of the critics’ awards went Strathain or Pheonix’s way and that there wasn’t much debate about it.
As opposed to Joaquin Pheonix who managed to find his place in top billing roles pretty early in his career, Hoffman has gotten a lot of love from his peers and hard-core fans for doing good work in small roles in films such as Scent of a Woman, Talented Mr. Ripley, Big Lebowski and Boogie Nights which might be part of the love that Hoffman is always receiving.

10. Paul Newman’s loss to Chris Cooper for best supporting actor, 2002
It was a hard decision with five worthy candidates, simply put, so I don’t think it was a great Oscar injustice. In this case, I just disagreed with who was best, although Chris Cooper’s win could have been compensation for co-stars Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage not being able to win their respective categories. Newman was sublimely delightful and out of his element in the film. Like Denzel Washington in Training Day, it was a riveting transformation to the dark side for Newman, whose screen persona has never stretched that far over to the evil side yet.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ball of Fire as a screwball comedy

This was a short essay from a collection of short essays I did for a film class on Ball of Fire which I felt was a really underrated screwball comedy:

Ball of Fire was directed and written by three of the best at their genre. Howard Hawks was a notable director of screwball comedies and the team of Wilder and Brackett wrote a number of comedies including Ernst Lubitsch's funniest film Ninotchka (1939). Wilder would also later become once of cinematic history's greatest comedic and dramatic directors with The Apartment and Some Like it Hot.

In Hollywood Genres, Howard Schatz writes, "The Screwball comedy dominated Depression-era screen comedy and provided that period's most significant and engaging social commentary" (151). Schatz suggests that screwball comedies were not just escapist fare for Depression-era audiences but they remedied their shattered dreams that their poverty and discrepancies in wealth couldn't be overcome. One important element for this remedy to work was that there had to be a love story that crossed class boundaries, usually with the woman as poor but more socially apt and the man as the opposite.

In Ball of Fire, Gary Cooper isn't so much rich as he is distinguished in the world of academia. He is a lexicologist in charge of an encyclopedia project with eight other professors, each in charge of a different field of knowledge. The fact that the other professors are twice his age highlights just how smart he is in his field. Barbara Stanwyck, an excellent comic foil, is a nightclub singer whose boyfriend is a gangster on the run from the police. She comes into contact with Cooper through his work. He is doing a section for his encyclopedia on slang and enlists her to help him and needing to hide from the cops, she accepts. This set-up is very interesting because while Gary Cooper is not rich, he's an expert on the language of the rich in a sense. In turn, Stanwyck's character, Sugarpuss O'Shea, is lower-class only through his standards. In terms of actual material wealth, O'Shea is richer than Cooper because her boyfriend has stolen large amounts of money while he has worked nine years into his uncompleted encyclopedia. Also, Sugarpuss O'Shea has absolutely no academic credentials, but suddenly becomes of use to him as an expert on slang through her lower-class background. Many twists on the traditional form of the screwball comedy are thrown into the story adding enough complexity to the relationship that it becomes unclear who really has the upper-hand. Moreso, the language theme presents wealth as an illusion which validates the main message of screwball comedies as well.

FIlm Review: Hoosiers

Hoosiers is a good example of a film that moves too fast. Gene Hackman stars as a new high school basketball coach in small-town Indiana. He tries to do his best despite the absence of the school's two best players. The first player is a sure bet to turn around Hackman's new basketball program but some random hot teacher who also is the boy's unofficial guardian, who Hackman has a crush on, won't let him play because she wants him to focus on academics. The second player, who's not as good, is just flat-out disrespectful to him and walks out on him, and Hackman stands his ground and says, "fine, don't return." This leaves the coach with a short-handed rotation to work with, but Hackman, who is supposed to be the story's hero, naturally acts unphased and dispenses the following advice: "pass the ball three times before shooting it." Although it sounds brilliant when he says it, they still lose. Then, all of a sudden, "Scooter", the hot teacher's surrogate nephew, magically changes his mind, joins the team, they start winning and the rest is history. There's really a lack of anything gradual here, the big obstacles are all suddenly overcome and it just takes away the drama. Sure, the film is filled with those clichéd scenes where in the middle of a game en route to their state championship, they're one-point down with three seconds on the clock and they MIGHT lose if they don't make the basket, but without seeing the strenuous process by which the coach and the team turned themselves around, the payoff just isn't rewarding. The film is a classic among Indiana basketball fans and rightly so. The state's love of basketball is something special, and despite the lack of story, the film still portrays the heart of basketball country very well. Sadly, the story is too formulaic and devoid of drama. Did I also mention that the bickering hot teacher and the coach hook up later in the movie? Well, the movie is so predictable you'd have figured that out anyway

Film Review: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a courtroom drama/murder mystery that works well as a portrait of a very unique Southern town.

The film also deals with issues of sexual orientation and new vs old money (as in earned vs inherited wealth) and the prejudices that lie wherein but it seems to lack direction. The film seems unsure of whether it wants to be a sophisticated courtroom drama or whether it wants its courtroom drama to not even be the main story at all. The voodoo scenes in particular seemed sloppily tacked on and the script oscillated in a disorienting way between making this a story through the eyes of and centered around John Cusack or Kevin Spacey’s story.

Despite not knowing where it’s going, however, the film is thoroughly watchable and engaging until the end (when you're left with that aftertaste of "where was this going?"). Kevin Spacey’s effusive charisma makes an interesting character that much more complex and the film is populated by interesting characters: a drag queen who wants to use testifying in court as an opportunity to promote herself, or a guy who walks an imaginary dog. There’s an interesting woman who walks into John Cusack’s room at the beginning of the story but by film’s end she just turns into a boring old love interest. A love of place is very apparent and visible in Eastwood’s portrait of Savannah as a town that somehow finds room to fit the most antiquated of Southern traditions in their modern day-to-day lives and in some cases, very very modern lives.

A very dissapointing list of movies i've seen by directors

I recently found that if you look at my list of movies by director (minimum is 4 films by any one director), i'm really somewhat dissapointed at my output of films that i've seen. I've prided myself and having a diverse background with a lot of different eras of film, and not necessarily having seen all the best movies (i haven't seen Saving Private Ryan or Apocolypse Now or even The Godfather. I haven't seen Sunset Boulevard but i've seen Double Indemnity for example and having a mix of the classics and some of the fringe films. Like one day i felt like watching a Scorsesee film. I'd seen Goodfellas and rather than go to the conventional choice of Raging Bull or Taxi Driver, his two next most famous films, I chose Color of Money becuase i wanted to see the performance from Paul Newman that won him an oscar and pool sounded fun). And when people call into question my credentials as a film person for not having seen enough films (they'll usually be like "you've never seen _____?!"), i don't really care, i don't feel pressure to see all the great movies at once. However, by these standards, i feel a little embarrassed. How can i call myself an expert on Clint Eastwood when i've only seen three of his films (Bronco Billy hehe, Unforgiven and Mystic River), or really anyone beyond Alfred Hitchkock, Stephen Spielberg and Woody Allen.

In my defense, however, I do have at least one or two films by pretty much every major director: Eastwood (3), Capra (3), Ford (2), Kubrick (3), Sidney Lumet (3), Fellini (1), Renoir (2), Bergman (1), Godard (1), Trouffant (1), Malick (2), etc.

And the guys i like like Sam Mendes, Rob Marshall, and Wes Anderson i've seen pertty much everything they've made. Someone suggested i do percentages and i've seen 100% of Mendes and Marshall and 75% of Wes Anderson (all except Bottle Rocket).

So i definitely feel encouraged to watch a little more. Right now i just checked out Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil so i can bump Eastwood up to 4 and i thought i might watch another Billy Wilder movie cause he's really my favorite and I just checked out this great movie "Conversations with Billy Wilder.

Also, if you can tell I'm a child of the 90s, based on all those bad and mediocre 90s films which i might otherwise not have watched.

Also, let me just say I never intended to watch more of Ivan Retiman than Rob Zemeckis, Vincente Minelli or Martin Scorsesee, or more Frank Oz than Rob Altman.

18 Alfred Hitchkock-Family Plot, Torn Curtain, Rebecca, 39 Steps, North by Northwest, Sabetour, The Wrong Man, Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, Topaz, The Birds, Psycho, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much (both versions), Rear Window
12 Stephen Spielberg-Color Purple, Raiders of the Last Ark, Jurassic Park, Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade, The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can, Schindler's List, Hook, ET, Jaws, War of the Worlds
12 Woody Allen-Hollywood Ending, Curse of the Jaded Scorpion, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Small Time Crooks, Sweet and Lowdown, Mighty Aphrodite, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Melinda and Melinda, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Bullets Over Broadway
7-Ivan Reitman: Ghostbusters, 6 Days 7 Days, Old School, Space Jam, Fathers Day, Beethoven, Beethoven’s 2nd

7 Rob Altman-Dr. T and the Women, McCabe and Mrs Miller, MASH, Prairie Home Companion, The Player, Buffalo Bill, California Split
7-Rob Zemeckis-Back to the Future I-III, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Romancing the Stone, Forrest Gump, Contact
7 Joel and Ethan Coen-Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Ladykillers, Man Who Knew Too Much, Intolerable Cruelty, Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men
7 Billy Wilder-Spirit of St. Louis, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Irma la Douce, Double Indemnity, Sabrina, Ace in the Hole

6 Mel Brooks-Spaceballs, High Anxiety, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, History of the World Part I
6 Vincente Minelli-Meet me in St Louis, American in Paris, The Pirate, Brigadoon, The Band Wagon, Kismet
6 Frank Oz-Bowfinger, In and Out, Stepford Wives, The Score, What About Bob, Housesitter
6 Frank Capra-Meet John Doe, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Arsenic andOld Lace, It Happened One Night, It's a Wonderful Life, Mr Deeds Goes to Town
6 Mike Nicholls-Primary Colors, The Birdcage, The Graduate, Working Girl, What Planet Are You From, Charlie Wilson's War
5 Martin Scorsesee-Color of Money, Age of Innocence, Goodfellas, Aviator, The Departed
5 George Lucas-Star Wars I-IV, American Graffiti

5 Stanley Donen-Take Me Out to the Ballgame (most sources insist that he really was the director, not Bugsy Berkley), On the Town, Singing in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Charade
5 Joel Schumaker-Time to Kill, 8 MM, Batman and Robin, Batman Forever, The Client
5 Orson Welles-Citizen Kane, Lady of Shanghai, Othello, Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil
5 John Glenn-5 Bonds

5 Sidney Pollack-Slender Thread, Sabrina, Out of Africa, Interpreter, Tootsie
5 John Huston-Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo, Beat the Devil, Man Who Would be King, African Queen
5 Robert Rodriguez-El Mariachi Trilogy, Spy Kids and Lava Girl, Sin City
5 Barry Levinson-Man of the Year, Sleepers, Rain Man, Tin Men, Good Morning Vietnam
5 Terry Gilliam-Adventures of Baron Muchenhassen, Time Bandits, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brothers Grimm, Fisher King
5 Jay Roach-Austin Powers I-III, Meet the Parents , Mystery Alaska
5 Gore Verbinski-Pirates of the Carribean 1, 2, 3, Weatherman, The Mexican

5 Howard Hawks-Sgt. York, Bringing Up Baby, Big Sleep, Ball of Fire, Rio Bravo
4 Harold Lloyd-Safety Last, Feet First, The Freshman, Kid Brother
4 Guy Hamilton-4 Bond movies

4 Peter Weir-Witness, Dead Poet’s Society, The Truman Show, Master and Commander
4 Peter and Bobby Farrelly-Can't remember anymore
4 Kevin Smith-Chasing Amy, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Dogma (pretty much everything except Clerks)
4 Steven Herek-Mr. Holland’s Opus, Three Musketeers, Mighty Ducks, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures
4 Steve Sodebergh-Erin Brockovitch, Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, Full Frontal

4 Brett Ratner-After the Sunset, Rush Hour 2, Family Man, X-Men 3
4 Peter Segal-Naked Gun 33 1/3, Tommy Boy, My Fellow Americans, 50 First Dates
4 Chris Columbis-Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Stepmom
4 John Lynn-Whole Nine Yards, Trial and Error, Sgt Bilko, Trial and Error, Ball of Fire
4 Tony Scott-Enemy of the State, Déjà Vu, Crimson Tide, Top Gun
4 Sydney Pollack-Sabrina, Out of Africa, Tootsie, The Interpreter
4 Barry Sonnenfeld-Men in Black I, II, Wild Wild West, Big Trouble

4 Bryan Singer-Usual Suspects, X-Men, X2, Superman Returns
4 Clint Eastwood-Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Unforgiven, Bronco Billy, Mystic River
4 Christopher Guest-Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration 4 John Lasseter-Lady and the Tramp, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Cars

4 Wes Anderson-Darjeerling Limited, Rushmore, Royal Tannenbaums, Life Aquatic
4 Ernst Lubuitsch-Trouble in Paradise, Merry Widow, Ninotchka, Shop Around the Corner
4 Johnothan Demme-Married to the Mob, Silence of the Lambs, Melvin and Howard, Manchurian Candidate
4 Tim Burton-Ed Wood, Batman Returns, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Batman
4 Roland Emmerich-Stargate, ID4, The Patriot, Day After Tomorrow

the first 30 pictures i saw this year: brief reviews

I wrote this on my facebook "blog" so the writing is casual

Da Vinci Code-I didn’t really buy many of the negative reviews, because most people were just comparing it to the book. It was a pretty damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don’t situation for Ron Howard because everyone was complaining about opposite things like “oh, I expected the heroine to be more assertive”, “the heroine was too assertive” “it stuck too closely to the book”, “it didn’t stick closely enough”, etc., etc. etc. In the end it was a good movie

Poseidon-I like this film because it knows it has nothing to offer in the way of good acting or plot, and just admits it up front: It wastes no more than 8 minutes getting to the action and explosions and it plays out pretty fun, and is a curious case of lifeboat ethics.

X-Men 3-Not that bad. I mean, seriously, there are sequels that are so much worse than this. (see Pirates of the Carribean)

Superman Returns: The mistake of this movie is thinking that a hyperrealistic setting like the ones used for X-Men and Spiderman could work for Superman, but come on, this is a guy with a cape who flies around the city and other than a pair of glasses makes no attempts whatsoever to conceal his identity? I mean no one in the office of top-notch journalists would find it suspicious that Superman and Clark Kent return on the same day? Good special effects, though, but story put me to sleep

Cars-People were comparing it to Toy Story 2 or Finding Nemo, who cares. Those films are in the past. This is a good film now. Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, and Larry the Cable Guy were all great and I loved how they really went all the way with it.

Lady in the Water: My first M. Night Shamylan film, so I was pretty impressed by how daring and original he was. It is really a very absurd story looking back, but when you’re in the theater you’re pretty entrenched and there’s a lot of subtle beauty to it. A really memorable score and Paul Giamatti has a good performance

Prairie Home Companion: Awesome, awesome film but people make the mistake of thinking it’s a movie about Garrison Kiellor: In truth, it’s about the director and it’s autobiographical. A very interesting, slow meditative piece with a talented cast and a the breezy music that goes along with it is great

You, Me and Dupree: Better than the trailer makes it look. Owen Wilson’s actually better in this than the Wedding Crashers, I thought. In fact, I think Owen Wilson starts out as his Wedding Crasher persona: a womanizing jerk, but he shows at the movie goes on that he really is a very sincere guy.

Click: Worst film of the year. Terrible. Even by Adam Sandler standards. Random humor doesn’t equal funniness. Am I the only one who thinks Adam Sandler is the least deserving movie star ever to emerge from SNL, in contrast…

Talladega Nights-A great follow-up to Anchorman. Not as funny as Anchorman but has more heart (especially with the father/son relationship), and it still has its moments. Remember the scene where the dad scotch tapes cereal to the bottom of his son’s car and as a driving lesson tells him he has crack under the seat and a 10-minute head start on the cops? Plus, it’s hard not to like John C. Riley there.

Devil Wears Prada-Don’t be fooled. It’s very much a chick flick even though it’s getting a lot of year-end rewards. It’s kind of relatable about a recent college grad trying to make it in the world. However for all the cynicism she has about the irrelavent fashion world she’s entering, she ends up on the dark side and the movie tells us to cheer along with her and glorify the fashion industry and looking pretty. By the time we see a montages of Anne Hathaway playing dress up over girl-power music, it cements the movie’s fate.

Pirates of the Carribean 2: It made A LOT of money, but bottom line: If I can’t understand the story and have no clue what the hell is going on, it hurts my movie experience just a little. I still love the first one, I did think Jonny Depp was as awesome as ever and I liked the two main swordfight scenes.

World Trade Center-I’m sick of all the post-9/11 analysis and reflection. It was a tragic event but it’s been in the media so much, why would anyone sit through 2 hours more of it. Well, for me it was free, and I thought it was fairly good. It escaped all the political hooplah and just got down to the story and when you got two people buried under rubble waiting out their last hours to what would probably be their deaths with a rescue mission to save them, then wherever you set it, it’s got the makings of suspense. Also, the two cops were really boring. I met some New York Fire Department members who were there at 911 recently, and they were a lot more colorful than that.

Invincible-Like World Trade Center, they really do those Northeastern accents pretty heavily. I’m not a football person but I ended up liking the movie, because it wasn’t too bombastic or anything.

Little Miss Sunshine-Best picture of the year (or close to it). It’s got such great moments of joy and sorrow, it’s hilarious, and the cast really fleshes out their characters. It’s more than a Steve Carrell picture, I’ll tell you that. It’s a cast that’s 6 people deep.

Employee of the Month-It’s the sign of the apocolypse that not one but two of the lead actors are there to promote other careers. Dane Cook is there to promote himself as a stand-up artist and Jessica Simpson is there to promote herself as a singer and neither can act. Simpson nearly ruins every scene she’s in. The rest of the cast is pretty good and it’s not that bad other than the two main actors. (Memorable line from my gutting team leader Luke (for a day): “well, I’m just here to promote myself as a stud”)

Accepted-A pretty funny movie. Justin Long is a little too geeky to pull off the Ferris Bueller part but I liked his “screw the adult world” attitude. Too bad, it came out before I even went to college or I might have had some ideas of my own.

The Departed-Exciting, thrilling, got a lot of good actors and effective use of “cross-cutting” as us film experts like to call it. What can I say: It’s Scorsesee’s return to form. DiCaprio is really good and so is Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin.

All the King’s Men: It’s got a lot of good actors trying really hard to get an oscar nomination on the basis that they learned a new accent. Kind of confusing and ambigious. I did write a good review of it because I was separating my review into the pros and cons and by the time I got done with the pros, I was out of wordspace so I just sent it in cause I was under a deadline.

Hollywoodland-Awesome. It’s like a film noir movie and one of the few that works at that. Adrien Brody, you rule!

The Black Dahlia-The opposite of everything I just said about Hollywoodland

Catch a Fire-By the time this movie started to get good, it ended. How weird. Tim Robbins is good, Derek Luke yells a lot.

Déjà vu-Let’s see: Out of Time, Man on Fire, Inside Man. Could Hollywood show a little creative effort to not put Denzel Washington in the EXACT same movie role over and over and over again? It’s actually a movie about time traveling and stuff, but the best possible title for this movie “Out of Time” was taken (see sentence one). It’s in New Orleans though and I knew two extras from the movie.

Borat-Kind of gross and borderline offensive to Southerners and the Romanian villagers he completely ripped off, but it’s hilarious. Marginal thumps up.

Bobby-Pretty good. There are a lot of stars in this film and an ensemble/multi-storyline kind of thing going. Some of the stories are worthwhile to tell and some aren’t but more often then not, they are. It’s pretty powerful too. The filmmaker’s love and admiration for Bobby Kennedy is really visible.

For Your Consideration-A rare Christopher Guest and co. miss

Stranger than Fiction-Big announcement: Funnyman is going serious to expand dramatic range! Go to yellow alert! Seriously, why is Will Ferrell in this? An attempt to copy Jim Carrey in the Truman Show? Dustin Hoffman’s pretty good. It has a cool concept behind it and the movie juggles the fine line between a mundane setting and an abstract concept you have to completely suspend your disbelief for. I liked it.

The Good Shephard-Kind of long and hard to follow but a cool movie. I didn’t really get what made Matt Damon’s character tick. It’s better than the Good German, I’m guessing.

Blood Diamond-Great performances, great action, greet scenery, great story. On-location shooting makes a big difference and there’s a lot of action but it’s really a movie about some very grave issues. It did have a little bit of tragedy.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

When critics bash a movie, what really happens: Bobby, X-Men 2, and Cars

So many movies could fall into the category of under appreciated because their legacy is dragged down by bad initial critical reviews.

When critics bash movies, however, it is because they just feel disappointed with respect to their expectations. I'm victim to this myself. For example, the reason that I was disappointed in Elizabethtown, was because I liked Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous or Fast Times at Ridgemont High so much and brought those expectations with me into the theater. Looking back, I don't think I gave the movie a fair shot because I brought my expectations with me into the theater and I judged it on a scale of disappointing/living up to my expectations vs objectively good/objectively bad.

This is really blatantly obvious in all kinds of instances when it really is as ethically wrong as movie reviewing gets. Although it's just movie reviewing, most movie critics are really giving skewed and inaccurate grades to things like X-Men 3 or Cars. In the former, they say, "not as good as X-Men 2" and in the latter they say, "not as good as other Pixar films like Toy Story." The critics would still rather see the movie than not see it, and they still would recommend it over other films that they might have given higher ratings too, but the bars get reset by the prequels, and in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, it's a little wrong. You'll see this in tons of instances with sequels and in many cases the sequels are just that bad, so it's hard to differentiate when the critics are just disappointed or it's really bad but it's not hard if you look closely. I have yet to read a review of X-Men 3 where they point to a concrete example of something the film did wrong as a film. I personally find that I tend to like the back ends of trilogies compared to other critics who seem to be unable to accept that the initial joy they have of being exposed to the filmmaker's universe can't be repeated.

Another thing to take into account is that a full-time film reviewer sees 200-300 films from each calender year*. That's why a relatively innocent film that sticks close to genre conventions like A Guy Thing, Hollywood Homicide, The Guardian, Night at the Museum, or Madagascar might make for decent lightweight entertainment for a movie viewer but might make for a critic's worst nightmare after seeing that same storyline 10 times that week. That's why a film like "Children of Men" or "Amilie" which I (as someone who sees about 30 calender films a year) felt were somewhat jumbled up in their plot, would impress a reviewer simply because it stuck out of the pack.

Lastly, sometimes movies can be done in by their own hype. Take the recent release Bobby. Bobby was earlier this year labeled as a front-runner for the oscar after scoring really good reviews at the Toronto Film Festival. The rest of the critics, who as per standard procedure screened the movie a week or two before opening date and reviewed it then, felt it was not as good as the initial hype and proceeded to mention their dissapointment in that respect. Outlets that summarize reviews like's studio news or box office mojo as well as outlets like film experience, oscar jam, oscar igloo (outlets that in previewing the oscars try to condense reviews to get an idea of what the "critical success" factor is), etc. picked up on those keywords that summarized that dissapointment and labeled it as "critical failure" disregarding what the reviewers actually thought of the movie. So to review, Group of critics A who were present at Toronto Film Festival liked Bobby. Group of Critics B liked it less than Group A, and expressed their dissapointment with group A's initial opinions. This led people in Group C, critical summarizers, interpreted as a bad film. What would have just happened if the film was seen by Group A and Group B at the same time rather than the emotional roller-coaster of hype and dissapointment? Then Group C would have a more exact representation to draw from, or maybe Group C could be careful to consider those factors and not dismiss the earned merits of a movie.

*Calender year is just a term I've coined (spread it around and make me famous!) which refers to movies you've seen that are released in the year you're watching them. For example, if I had been to the movie theater 3 times this year and seen Little Miss Sunshine, Cars, and Stranger than Fiction and I saw V for Vendetta on DVD, then I had seen four movies this calender year.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ode to Working Actors

Today I browsed through a very interesting book on casting from Barnes and Noble. I read the entire first chapter and I learned that there were essentially 6 types of categories of actors according to these casting directors who wrote the book. You can drop down in categories if you haven’t done significant enough work in a while. The authors note that the following categories apply for movies. A successful TV star like Amanda Byrnes, Topher Grace and Wilmer Valderama, Frankie Muniz or George Clooney when he was just starting out in the movie business, is much lower on the ladder:

1. Unknowns-Pretty much nobodies, they could be fresh out of college

2. Working Actors-These are guys that highly astute film buffs, fans of a certain niche (like Star Trek fans might be more familiar with Armin Shimerman than the general public, for example, or fans of Mr. Show might know Bob Oderink and David Cross) might know of. They find steady work and pop up in a lot of films as character actors and you’ll often recognize their faces before recognizing their names.

3. Names-People know their names

4. Stars-People know their names and they must add clout to a film

5. A-Listers-If one of these people like Harrison Ford or George Clooney or Rene Zellweger signs onto a film, than it’s enough to get the film greenlit

6. A Plus Listers-Not only will their name attached to a film project equal a green light but they are almost guaranteed to make you money. To be an A-plus lister, it’s not just about acting but usually you or your agents have a keen eye for good material as most of your films are big hits (i.e. Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson although it will be interesting how his anti-Semitic tirade will affect things). Surprisingly enough, the three most bankable actors statistically are Will Smith, Tom Cruise and Mike Meyers. With Austin Powers and Shrek, Meyers has a very high average, although that might be a misleading statistic since it’s easier to be bankable if you’re doing a lot of sequels.

Examples of working actors:

-Anthony Heald (Boston Public, X-Men 3, 8 Milimeter)

-Virginia Madsen before her Oscar nomination, Mercedes Reuhl (she actually won an Oscar in the early 90’s but she fills out mostly guest star roles)

-James Cromwell-I’d call him borderline. He was in Babe, played the villain in LA Confidential and played the president in Sum of All Fears, but do more than 3 out of 10 people on the street know him by name?

-James Rebhorn-This guy always plays the bad guy from Dave to Scent of a Woman to the last episode of Sienfeld as the prosecutor

-Speaking of people who played the president, Bill Pulliam

-Johnothan Pryce (A Bond Villain, Evita, back in the 80s he was actually a star)

-Sean Bean (The Island, Goldeneye, Troy)

-Jonothan McBraye (Guest spots on Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Talladega Nights)

-Kathy Baker (All the King’s Men, a guest spot on Star Trek, Boston Public)

-Teri Polo (depending on how many people are intimately familiar with the cast list for Meet the Fockers, she was on an unsuccessful season of TV with I’m with Her and was the female love interest in Aspen Extreme)

-Alan Tyduck (I’m sorry if I spelt his name wrong, highlights include Serenity and Dodgeball)

-Noah Taylor (Life Aquatic, The New World, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

-Bud Cort (MASH, Life Aquatic)

-Rene Auberjoinis (MASH, McCabe and Mrs Miller, guest spots on Frasier as his mentor, Star Trek, Boston Legal)

-Saul Rubineck (guest spots on Frasier as Daphne’s fiancée Donnie, Unforgiven, For Love or Money, I Love Trouble, Dick)

-Kevin Pollack (who looks a lot like Saul Rubineck, The Aristocrats, The Whole Nine Yards)

-Alan Ruck (Cheaper by the Dozen, Spin City, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)

-Paula Marshall (A show called Cupid, a guest spot on Sienfeld, Cheaper by the Dozen)

-Laura Knightlighter (Guest shots on Will and Grace and Friends, bit roles in Down with Love, Shallow Hall, Kicking and Screaming, Anchorman, a short stint on SNL)

-J.B. Smoove (Mr. Deeds, guest spots on Conan O’Brien and Saturday Night Live)

-Jerry Minor (SNL, Trigger Happy TV, Arrested Development)

-Nicky Tate (Out of Sight, Full Frontal, Boston Public)

-Ethan Suplee before the 2nd season of My Name is Earl (Cold Mountain, My Name is Earl, Boy Meets World)

-Alex Bornstein (Family Guy, Kicking and Screaming, Mad TV)

-Elizabeth Banks (Seabiscuit, 40-Year Old Virgin, recurring role on Scrubs)

-Craig Anton (Short stints on Mad TV, 3rd Rock from the Sun, and the game show I’ve Got a Secret)

-Luis Gusman (Traffic, Count of Monte Christo, Luis*)

*In 2000, Luis was part of an ill-fated attempt to turn a working actor into a TV star with a show called “Luis” which the producers told TV guide would hopefully be a success because “everyone knows who Luis is, even if they don’t know him by name. They’ve seen him in Traffic,” but al, as that didn’t work out as planned. This if anything exemplified the rules concerning working actors and names

-Mary McCormack (Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, Full Frontal)

-Jack Black was a fairly invisible working actor in the 90’s before segwaying into full-blown star in Shallow Hal. Look for him in The Jackal, Enemy of the State, Waterworld, Dead Man’s Walking and even an episode of Touched by an Angel. When you look at those movies, you have to think that the directors of those films are kicking themselves in the back for not giving him more lines or utilizing his comic talents when they had the chance

-Judy Greer (Elizabethtown, 13 Going on 30, Adaptation, guest spots on Arrested Development and Just Shoot Me)

-I’m still inclined to include Patricia Clarkson in this category but only marginially. She probably had one of the lowest profile and lowest grossing films in the last decade to have produced a best acting nomination in Pieces of April. She’s also been in Far From Heaven, Frasier, All the King’s Men, Good Night and Good Luck and the Station Agent

-Ian Holm (although around 2004 he was in danger of leaving that category) with Lord of the Rings, Garden State and Aviator

Best places to find quality working actors:

-Christopher Guest films are a very unusual phenomena in that they entirely star working actors. They are led by that what’s-her-name-again woman from Home Alone (Catherine O’Hara), that guy who played the dad in American Pie (Eugene Levy), the guy who falls for Elaine in Seinfeld (Bob Balaban), the girl who plays Joey’s agent in his 2 season sitcom (Jennifer Coolidge), the phony record company executive from Josie and the Pussycats (Parker Posey), the guy who played Lenny in Laverne and Shirley (Michael McKean), the guy who voices Principal Skinner in the Simpsons (Harry Shearer), and the station boss from Anchorman (Fred Willard). Seriously, I know Christopher Guest fans (of which I am proudly one) are going to eat me out for this, but these guys would have so few roles without Christopher Guest and never have the opportunity at their current states of fame to have such large parts in movies. When guys like Fred Willard and Eugene Levy bestow praise on Christopher Guest as the best comic filmmaker in Hollywood and profess there’s nothing in Hollywood like him, let’s consider that for Willard and Levy, there’s nothing in Hollywood that would even give them more than a small character role in a big budget film. I’m not saying that Guest isn’t funny or innovative, but keep in mind when hearing some of the praise bestowed among Guest. The Christopher Guest brand, however, is truly an anomaly within present day Hollywood.

-Some shows like Will and Grace, Friends and Arrested Development (which did it better than the previous 2) shamelessly recruit guest stars to boost the ratings but Frasier seems to have featured all the best working actors in Hollywood: Virginia Madsen, Mercedes Ruehl, Laura Linney, Patricia Clarkson, Rita Wilson, and Amy Brenneman all played Frasier’s girlfriends. Saul Rubineck played Donnie’s husband and Daphne's brother was played by Anthony LaPaglia.

-Sienfeld also used up pretty much every attractive woman in Hollywood over the course of 10 seasons including a pre-“Lois and Clark” Teri Hatcher, a pre-“Sex and the City” Kristen Davis, Paula Marshall and A.J. Langer among many, many others.

-In my opinion, once you get on SNL you’re bumped up to the name category relatively quickly (unless you’re on for a very short time like Laura Knightlighter or Jerry Minor). Having your name announced week after week in the opening credits familiarizes you to the American public, plus upon graduation from the ranks of SNL, you’re usually awarded with your very own movie based on a theme character and even if it’s terrible like Night at the Roxbury or Superstar, you still get your name out there. However, Mad TV being much more low-profile doesn’t grant you that entrance into recognition. Therefore, many good comic actors and actresses have still remained under the radar despite working pretty exhaustively on securing guest roles and whatever else: Nicole Sullivan (King of Queens), Will Sasso (Less than Perfect), Mo Collins (Arrested Development), Michael McDonald (bit roles in Austin Powers and Spin City), Alex Bornstein (Kicking and Screaming, Family Guy), Phil Lamarr (Futurama), David Herman (Kicking and Screaming, Office Space and guest spots on Family Guy)

-The Oscars are also a very easy way to jump up immediately from working actor to name category: Virginia Madsen (Highlander, guest roles on Frasier, CSI: Miami, Star Trek: Voyager), Catherine Keener, Djimon Hotsou (previously in Amistad and Gladiator), Benicio del Toro (Liscence to Kill), Shoreh Aghdoshloo, Rachel Weicz (Enemy at the Gates, The Mummy, About a Boy), Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding), and Michael Clarke Duncan. All of the people listed above (although it’s too soon to tell with Catherine Keener) have enjoyed much better careers after their oscar nominations.

I think because you have a place in history with that oscar nomination and someone reads your name in an envelope in front of one of the largest TV audiences of the year along with possibly the best 15 seconds of your acting career, it’s safe to say you’re pretty much always a name from then on.

-At the same time, oscar winners and oscar nominees can easily find themselves back in the working actor category if they don’t follow up on that one great performance or it’s been a while. It’s a close call because she is married to Ted Danson but to audiences of today who know her from Joan of Arcadia and Sunshine State, Mary Steenburgen might be a working actor. Mercedes Ruehl is pretty much in the working category, and the same would go for Armhin Muehler-Stahl who got an oscar nomination for playing Geoffery Rush’s father in Shine. Still, these actors would never be nobodies, and I’m not even sure that casting directors would treat them like working actors. I think they’d always get a certain minimal treatment of reverence with casting opportunities for having an oscar nomination

-Lastly I’d like to point out my observation that some of the biggest cult followings of today happen to be those of working actors who have stayed in that category well into their careers: John C. Riley, Paul Giamatti, Peter Sargasaand, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman have incredibly large fan bases among film literate people and inspiring actors. My theory on this is that you feel a certain ownership for knowing about these actors’ talents before the rest of the country does