Sunday, March 05, 2006


I guess the best film I saw this year was Howl’s Moving Castle. I hope it wins its Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It is a beautiful story of the difference between surface beauty and hidden beauty, the value of aging women, and a kaleidoscope retelling of stories like Snow White and The Wizard of Oz. A lot of people who read this blog have tween-aged and teen-aged daughters. They owe it to themselves to make sure that they and their daughters see both Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away.

Crash is not a great movie. Too many people who never met each other before the movie begins keep running into each other during the course of the few days during which the film takes place. Because the film is telling the story of so many different people, nothing is fully developed.

However, I lived in Los Angeles for a few years. Of the gazillion movies and television shows that purport to take place in Los Angeles, Crash is only movie I have ever seen that gives you any real sense of what it feels like to live in Los Angeles on a daily basis. I have seen a handful of movies that get it right in part – Boyz In The Hood, maybe, but I never lived in the ‘Hood. Jackie Brown comes to mind, but that film focuses on eccentric losers.

The one-nanosecond-away-from-riot feeling you get whenever you live in L.A. – Crash captures that perfectly. Crash is as groundbreaking in one way as Brokeback Mountain is in another way. Crash seems overtly political, with everyone talking as if they just spent too much time on talk radio. However, that’s what folks sound like in L.A. The struggling actors who gave the ensemble the SAG Award and the more established members of Academy who nominated the film for its carload of Oscars must be feeling the same way. In a year where no great movies were nominated, Crash may take the Best Picture Oscar. After all, most Academy voters live in Los Angeles.

Brokeback Mountain is an interesting character study of a basically heterosexual man who, because of his strong silent charisma, has the opportunity to experience an unusual array of personal experiences, none of which he seems to get right. One of those experiences happens to be homosexual.

It’s a good movie. However, Larry McNurtrey covered the same ground, far better, in Lonesome Dove, where the central love affair was the love that the two guys (Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duval) had for each other. In some ways, Lonesome Dove was more daring. In Lonesome Dove, the Tommy Lee Jones character was so closeted that he refused to acknowledge any activity with the opposite sex at all. A main plot point of Lonesome Dove is Tommy Lee Jones’ refusal to acknowledge a son. He refused to acknowledge that Little Ricky Shroeder was his son!

McNurtrey also covered the poor Texas aspect of Brokeback Mountain in many places, most notably in The Last Picture Show.

I was not wowed by Heath Ledger’s Oscar nominated performance. Staring vacantly into the camera is more a Rorshach (sic) test for the viewer than a hard day at work for the actor. If we give Heath an Oscar for this performance, then we should give Harrison Ford an Oscar for every thing he does.

Still, given the politics of the day, Brokeback Mountain stands a very good chance to win Best Picture. No matter what else happens with the film, I agree with everyone else who expects Ang Lee to take the Best Director Oscar.

I thought Michelle Williams gave an excellent Oscar-worthy performance in Brokeback Mountain. However, I thought that Rachel Weisz’s work in Constant Gardner was the best acting I saw out of anyone this year. Weisz has far more screen time than Reese Witherspoon has in Walk The Line. Moreover, Ralph Fiennes, and most of the other major characters in Constant Gardner risk their lives and their careers either to do Rachel Weisz’s bidding or to destroy her. Due to the strange mix of moral and sexual clarity on the one hand and personal ambiguity on the other hand that Weisz brings to the character, it is easy to understand why everyone reacts to her as they do. I hope Rachel Weisz wins for Best Supporting Actress.

However, I know that they owe Catherine Keener a lifetime achievement award. Not to mention the fact that everyone has read, and wants to again give an award to, To Kill A Mockingbird (Keener plays Harper Lee in Capote). Williams, Weisz, Keener. Amy Adams won the Spirit Award last night. Everybody loves Frances McDormand simply for being Frances McDormand. Best Supporting Actress is a very tough category this year.

I’ve written about Munich previously. I like the movie, I think it’s important, but I expect that there are better choices to be made in every major category in which it was nominated.

Capote is the best realized film of the year. Similarly with last year’s Million Dollar Baby, Capote does exactly what it sets out to do, without any of the open questions and loose ends of the other Oscar nominees. Nevertheless, I don’t think Capote attempts enough to be awarded an Oscar. (Didn’t think Million Dollar Baby did either – I think The Aviator was the Best Movie of 2004.)

Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as Capote is perfect. I’ve met a lot of artists and lawyers like him. The point is that Truman Capote’s I-don’t- give-a-fuck effete writer is tougher than Terrence Howard’s relatively sensitive pimp in Hustle And Flow. I would be shocked if Hoffman did not get an Oscar.

Having seen all five of the Best Actor films, I believe that only Terrence Howard can be permitted to be in the same sentence as Hoffman. Howard also pulls into second place because he played a180-degree different character in Crash. If Howard’s long-shot comes in, it will be because the voters decided to ignore the Academy rule and award him for both films collectively.

Of course, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I completely agree with the political views expressed in Good Night And Good Luck. Including the paranoia about what people like McCarthy and his 2006 analogues are trying to do to destroy freedom in America. I thought Straithairn was very good as Murrow (Straithairn is very good in everything), although a cut below Hoffman and Howard. I thought Frank Langella’s Bill Paley was the best thing in the film. He played a businessman that I see all the time in real life, and never see in the movies.

However, Good Night And Good Luck was the worst realized film of the five nominees. They needed to spend more time with Langella’s characters and the sponsors. They needed to either spend more time exploring what having a left-wing past was doing to the ancillary characters, or just cut that out entirely. In other words, I did not think it was particularly well written. I still expect to see Clooney get the Screenwriting Oscar.

The Friday night we went to see Good Night And Good Luck (72 hours after it was nominated for Best Picture), I called the movie theatre to ask what time the movie started. I was told they would start it whenever we showed up to see it. Once we sat alone in the movie theatre and watched it, I could see why. Although we enjoyed the film, Good Night And Good Luck is a made-for-television movie. In fact, since walls coming in on you is a hidden motif in the movie (probably due to budgetary constraints as much as plot considerations), you are probably better off watching it on a 19-inch black-and-white television. The same thing can be said about Million Dollar Baby. If Good Night And Good Luck surprises us and wins, it will be because Academy voters must like movies that are better views on the old General Electric television.

Didn’t see enough of the other nominated films to have an opinion on who will win. This being “show business,” with the business as important as the show, I expect Reese Witherspoon will get an Oscar for Walk The Line. I thought she was fine in that movie. Who would say that Reese Witherspoon is anything but fine?

In my world, they would take Miss Witherspoon, and remake Walk The Line as the far more interesting June Carter Cash Story, focusing on the role that the Carter Family played in the development of 20th century American music, of how although June Carter Cash was rich in fame, she, and all those singers, were relatively poor financially, how June Carter managed to get divorced and re-married so many times in a conservative time and place, and the role Jesus played in transforming John and June from the entertainers they were to the important symbols they became to so many people.