Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Actors in 3 or more nominated films this decade

Here's a brand new random list:Actors and how many films they've been in, specific to this decade.

Requirements are:

-Must be in a minimum of 3 oscar-nominated films.

-By nomination, we mean best picture

-One of those Oscar-nominated films must have been in the 00's.

You might find some surprising names here like Allison Janey or Christopher Plummer. I didn't have time to look up every extra in all three LOTR's.

Jack Nicholson-10-Five Easy Pieces, Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Reds, Terms of Endearmant, Prizzi’s Honor, Broadcast News, A Few Good Men, As Good as it Gets, Departed

Dustin Hoffman-8-The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Lenny, All the President’s Men, Kramer vs Kramer, Tootsie, Rain Man, Finding Neverland

Al Pacino-6-Godfather, Godfather II, Dog Day Afternoon, Godfather III, Scent of a Woman, The Insider

Daniel Day-Lewis-6-Ghandi, Room with a View, My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, Gangs of New York, There Will be Blood

Tom Wilkinson-6-In the Name of the Father, Sense and Sensibility, Full Monty, Shakespeare in Love, In the Bedroom, Michael Clayton

Cate Blanchett-6-Elizabeth, LOTR 1-3, The Aviator, Babel

Meryl Streep-5-Julia, Deer Hunter, Kramer vs Kramer, Out of Africa, Tootsie

Tommy Lee Jones-5-Love Story, Coal Miner’s Daughter, JFK, The Fugitive, No Country for Old Men

Willhem Defoe-5-Mississippi Burning, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, English Patient, The Aviator

Russell Crowe-5-LA Confidential, The Insider, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander

John C Reilley-5-Thin Red Line, Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, Aviator

Christopher Lee-5-Hamlet, Moulin Rouge, Lord of the Rings I-III

Tom Hanks-4-Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, Green Mile

Morgan Freeman-4-Driving Miss Daisy, Unforgiven, Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby

Jim Broadbent-4-In the Name of the Father, Bullets over Broadway, Moulan Rouge, Gangs of New York

Kelly McDonald-4-Elizabeth, Godsford Park, Finding Neverland, No Country for Old Men

Geoffery Rush-4-Shine, Elizabeth, Shakespeare in Love, Munich

Ian Holm-4-Chariots of Fire, Lord of the Rings I, Lord of the Rings III, The Aviator

Sissy Spaceck-4-Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Missing, JFK, In the Bedroom

Julie Christie-4-Dr. Zhivago, Darling, Heaven Can Wait, Finding Neverland

Vanessa Redgrave-4-A Man for All Seasons, Julia, Room with a View, Atonement

Kevin Bacon-4-JFK, A Few Good Men, Apollo 13, Mystic River

Leonardo DiCaprio-4-Titanic, Gangs of New York, Aviator, The Departed

James Cromwell-4-Babe, LA Confidential, Green Mile, The Queen

Ed Harris-4-Right Stuff, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, The Hours

Julie Christie-4-Doctor Zhivago, Darling, Heaven Can Wait, Finding Neverland

Matt Damon-4-Field of Dreams, Good Will Hunting, Saving Private Ryan, Departed

John Rhys-Davies-4-Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lord of the Rings I-III

Chris Cooper-3-American Beauty, Seabiscuit, Capote

Allison Janey-3-American Beauty, The Hours, Juno

Toni Collette-3-Sixth Sense, The Hours, Little Miss Sunshine

Alec Baldwin-3-Working Girl, The Aviator, Departed

Albert Finney-3-Tom Jones, Erin Brockovitch, Traffic

Chris Cooper-3-American Beauty, Seabiscuit, Capote

Clifton Collins Jr-3-Traffic, Capote, Babel

Michael Pena-3-Million Dollar Baby, Crash, Babel

Judi Dench-3-Room with a View, Shakespeare in Love, Chocolat

George Clooney-3-Thin Red Line, Good Night and Good Luck, Michael Clayton

Beth Grant-3-Rain Man, Little Miss Sunshine, No Country for Old Men

Martin Sheen-3-Apocolypse Now, JFK, The Departed

Sean Penn-3-Dead Man Walking, Thin Red Line, Mystic River

Kate Winslet-3-Sense and Sensibility, Titanic, Finding Neverland

Sean Astin-3-LOTR I-III

Orlando Bloom-3-LOTR I-III

Elijah Wood-3-LOTR I-III

Virgo Mortgensen-3-LOTR I-III

Ian McKellan-3-LOTR I-III

Maggie Smith-3-California Suite, Room with a View, Godsford Park

Christopher Plummer-3-Sound of Music, The Insider, A Beautiful Mind

Richard Harris-3-Guns of Navarrone, Unforgiven, Gladiator

Monday, September 29, 2008

Straight Man/Funny Man Dichotomy

I once took a college course for 3 relatively easy credits called "Film Comedy" and there was a very revealing quote in our textbook explaining the straight man-funny man dichotomy: "Comedy is something funny in a non-funny situation or something non-funny in a funny situation."

If my friends have traditionally thought of me as goofy and are expecting that and I were to walk into the room with a suit and tie and shake their hands in a business-like manner, they would find it funny. When Andy Kaufman did strikingly ordinary things on stage, people found it funny because they were expecting non-funny. This is where the funny man/straight man dichotomy comes from: Encapsulating the entirety of the humor about a situation into one character and everything else into the other allows one to have the base of reality from which funny will seem most evident by contrast.

Some shows like Perfect Strangers, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, or Family Matters has one (or two) funny men and everyone else is normal. The Office employs straight man-funny man humor tremendously: think of how Michael, the funny man, says something awkward and the rest of the office, playing the role of the straight man goes silent.

30 Rock is an example of the opposite: Jack is highly businesslike. He dresses in a suit and tie and often says things a businessman is supposed to say in the tone a businessman would say it. At the same time, he'll occasionally catch you off-guard by saying something bizarre occasionally. In that sense, he encapsulates both straight and funnyman qualities: Everything about his demeanor is representative of the straight man, while his occasional bit of bizarreness is the funny contrast. It works very well, because there are clearly delineated boundaries between the two.  On the other hand, some shows like Wings or Cheers or Seinfeld, everyone's a little off kilter with they're one funny personality trait. On Wings, for example, Faye is a little absent-minded, Roy is a little greedy and Antonio is a little lonely. These traits only provide comedy because Faye is surrounded by level-headed people, Roy is surrounded by mostly moral people, and Antonio is surrounded by people with a healthy differentiation between friendship and people they hang out with at work.

There are also some shows in which the straight-man/funny-man phenomenon gets deliciously skewed:
1. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has straight men and funny men at first but the straight men eventually go funny. Someone enters the world of these narcissistic people (Dee, Frank, the 3 guys) as an outsider to their narcissism (i.e. the priest who was in love with Dee, the unnamed waitress) but they get caught up in their narcissism and get turned inside out in their interactions with the group
2. Newsradio and Arrested Development: On the surface, there's one straight guy-Michael Bluth and Dave Foley's character-but they end up showing just a hint of narcissism or pettiness here or there and as time goes on and they become more bonded to the group, they're negative traits become drawn out more to the point that there's no longer a straight man
3. Family Matters-Originally, the family is normal and the neighbor next door is off-kilter but as they end up bonding, it seems as if Steve Urkel might be the normal one, and someone like Carl, with his outbursts, might be the off-kilter one. This show was broadcast at the height of TGIF, so the comedy had a layer of forced sentimentality to it as well.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Melvin and Howard (1980) Review

The actual story the film is based on: In 1968, four years before reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes died, he was reported to have had an encounter with a good-natured blue collar worker, Howard Dummar. Dummar picked up Hughes when he was stranded on the side of a Las Vegas road and gave him a ride to Las Vegas. When Hughes died,he bequeathed money to Dummar as a reward for his good deed. Unfortunately, Hughes' estate and the Nevada courts found Hughes' story too unbelievable to be true and Dummar never got the money.

The movie itself is well-intentioned and it truly has interesting characters. An actor I've never heard of before in my life, Paul Le Mat, plays Dumar with an innocent "aw shucks" attitude that endears him to the audience and strengthens our opinion of him as the rightful heir. He lets himself get easily seduced by an older female customer when he's delivering milk and when the woman who turns out to be his second wife makes suggestive innuendo at him, he says in a flabbergasted tone "Bonnie, aren't you a Mormon girl?"

His first wife Linda, who was the focus of my attention on this film based on the fact that the only thing I knew about the film was that it was Mary Steenburgen's Academy-award winning role, was also an interesting character: underneath the guise of her provocative clothing and desire to be a dancer (be it exotic or tap), she's equally innocent and oblivious to the world around her.

Except for the one scene in which Bonnie seduces Howard, she's woefully underdeveloped and there's very little reason to be happy to see her and Howard at the end of the film together. The film wants us to feel that the tragedy that is hitting Howard is hitting Bonnie' as well, since she's his wife. Because of the way marriages were coming and going in Howard's life and the initial chemistry between Linda and Howard, I was kind of hoping that Bonnie was just a temporary road stop en route back to Linda. Never mind that in REAL LIFE, Howard and Linda didn't get back together, the story never made me see Bonnie as anything more than some impulsive farmgirl in need of a man. The chemistry or story arc between the two needed to be strengthened up front.

Another woefully underdeveloped relationship was that between Melvin and Howard which is what someone might get the impression the film is about, considering it's the title of the film. The story, or the most interesting part of it, was all about Melvin's inheritance of Howard's money, and that only came back in the last 20 minutes of the film as a sort of epilogue to the story of Melvin's unsuccessful marriage to Linda. Some reviews said that the story was about the myth American dream of the American dream unearthed as Melvin's story was a backwards version of Howard's story. To me, however, it seemed like there needed to be at least some allusion to Howard Hughes- a reminder that he was in the story in any capacity at all - between the first ten minutes and the last twenty.

While I understand the film is a classic, to me, the film never really knew what it was about: A man's failed on-again off-again marriage, an almost complete portrait of a man who would go on to become a footnote in history, or the story of a man's controversial claim to inheritance.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Japanese Game Show imports

I remember when I first saw a link to "Japanese Tetris" where various contestants try to fit through various shapes or risk landing in a pool of urine (according to this source, it is urine they land into http://www.cracked.com/article_15804_p2.html), I thought it was a pretty cool idea for a show and judging by how popular these clips were.

So when they decided to build an American game show out of this Japanese game show, in Fox's new game show "Hole in the Wall," why is it all of a sudden pegged as one of this Fall TV season's most likely failures?

Well, in truth, even though the American version is mostly the same as the Japanese version, there is a slight difference: The Japanese videos are exotic. They're doing something completely out of the ordinary and they're also acting in ways that seem unusual to us. The Japanese participants are being slapped around and falling into vats of urine and are still laughing and having a good time which is somewhat odd. Wierd music is playing in the background and of course, everyone is speaking in a language you don't understand. This enables you to use your imagination a little bit to figure out what everyone is talking about.

When you Americanize it, you take away the mysteriousness of this outside culture. You also feel the fakeness of the whole thing. Sportscasters are giving commentary on what's taking place as if this is a sport that's been around as long as baseball, when in fact, only 24 Americans have played this game in history (4 episodes of 6 contestants each). The contestants on the Japanese shows play the game as if they're taking it seriously and because the average American doesn't know much about Japanese culture, for all we know, this is as much a part of the Japanese way of life as Samurais, origami, and bullet trains are. Therefore we think we're peering into Japanese culture. In America, there's now cultural foundation for this game, the contestants' enthusiasm is not an enthusiam for this game....they just want to make money and the only reason they want to make money through squeezing themselves through enroaching shapes is because that's the avenue laid out for them by American TV executives hoping to artificially create a cultural phenomeon by cashing in on a Japanese trend. It's all too transparent.

So in this case, the exoticness makes all the difference

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Burn After Reading review

I have now seen 8 Coen films to date and would not profess myself a major Coen fan. I was baffled by No Country for Old Men, I fell in love with Oh Brother Where Art Thou, I watched the cult status behind Big Lebowski and Fargo grow from the sidelines, I enjoyed Intolerable Cruelty, and I lost my faith in the brothers with Ladykillers and Man Who Wasn't There.

As you can see, it's an up and down relationship that I've had with their films, and was hesitant to log in an 8th Coen outing (I feel 7 is more than enough films to see of a director you're not crazy about) but couldn't resist the bizarre-sounding plot and the idea of seeing Brad Pitt go into full comic mode. And I thoroughly loved the film.

For one thing, I'm a native of D.C. and the Coens have a great sense of place in their films: the superficiality of sunny Hollywood in Intolerable Cruelty, the bible-belt-based bluegrass-churning populist Southern Charm in Oh Brother Where Art Thou, and the quirkiness of the Minnesota cold in Fargo.

I can't tell you how great the reception was in my theater in D.C. where we might not see these things as that far-fetched: beauracrats (in the form of JK Simmons) making decisions about what to do when people are getting killed and secrets are being spilt out to other nations on the basis of what takes the least paperwork and allocating $50,000 for a random lady's plastic surgery for virtually no reason at all.

The plot is truly screwball and does a far better job of past Coen films at raising the ante in the third act so that we're invested to see what deliciously improbable ways the screenwriters will tie up the loose ends. It also doesn't help that some of the protagonists are actually likable: Brad Pitt as the airhead exercise junkie who's as faithful a friend as they come, Frances McDormand as the gym worker who just wants to look pretty, Richard Jenkins as the poor schlub who likes her, etc.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

So anyone who thought ET should have beat Ghandi in '82....

Got some validation today from the winning filmmaker himself....

Sir Richard Attenborough (actor from the Great of Escape) who won an Oscar as director of the film Ghandi recalled seeing E.T. in a theater before the ceremony and thinking that he would most certainly lose the award.

It would be an interesting parlor game to think of how many directors would own up to the fact that they did not consider their film the best of the competition. Most winners are trained to be gracious by their PR reps and will readily admit it, but Attenborough seems genuinely sincere in this interview. Roger Ebert also recalls that in the previous year's Oscar race, David Puttnam and Jake Ebberts being genuinely surprised that their film, Chariots of Fire (which went on to win the Oscar) even got nominated (For the record, I like Chariots of Fire enough to put it in my top 100, even though On Golden Pond and Raiders of the Lost Ark are also in my top 100 and superior films):

It would be more unheard of in this day and age for a director of an Oscar-winning film to flat-out admit that an opposing director's film is better lest he hurt his own film's marketability. A twenty-six year waiting period, on the other hand, seems like a pretty acceptable time to admit that you weren't the best in the competition, which means that we only have to wait 5 years or so until Bruce Beresford publishes a press statement along the lines of "What the hell were you thinking choosing Driving Miss Daisy over Born on the Fourth Of July, Glory, Crimes and Misdemeanors or Do the Right Thing?"

Another thought that comes to mind is if a filmmaker publicly admits that he felt another film was more deserving, do you think that we can rewrite Oscar history and bump Spielberg up to the 3-time Oscar winner category (placing him 2nd all-time behind John Ford)? That would really piss off the film snobs out there who tend to thumb their noses at Spielberg and Lucas for their plebeian films and the Blockbuster culture they're partially responsible for.