Redacted from Salon‘s Oscar coverage

My ultra-brief tenure at Salon.com came to a screeching halt with the non-publication of this, my third and final short piece for the play-it-safe-unless-it’s-vulgar online rag. I didn’t bother to watch the Academy Awards ceremony (I haven’t for several years), yet when Andrew O’Hehir asked the correspondents of “Film Salon” to chime in with their respective 2 cents, I penned the following. The timid O’Hehir refused to run my commentary, preferring instead a collage of totally unmemorable opinions, none of which have stood the test of time. Shortly thereafter, the democratic atmosphere of “Film Salon” bit the dust. Instead of being home to divergent voices, it became the near-exclusive enclave of O’Hehir and his hamfisted-buffoon-in-arms, the much beloved (though not terribly perceptive or eloquent) Matt Zoller Seitz. Leaving aside — for the nonce — how being a popular critic amounts to being no critic at all — here is what the rest of you were denied the opportunity to read:

Suggested headline: After party turns deadly when Streep whacks Bullock with a French silk.

No, but seriously, Andrew, the best picture win by Hurt Locker feels as though it were decreed by our betters at Halliburton, as a means of conditioning sheep-like Americans into acceptance of an endless state of war as the new “norm.” Obama hasn’t and won’t do anything to right the wrongs of the Cheney/Bush legacy he inherited; the Republican who’ll be elected President in 2012 won’t either. This anointing of the apolitcal Hurt Locker, a movie essentially about guys just doing their jobs, thus indicates the futility of questioning why — why, why, why those jobs need to be done in the first place. In laymen-speak, it’s about keeping the U.S. economy permanently crippled, stupid, while the patriotic myth that our military keeps America “safe” waxes mindlessly, senselessly on. Ask anybody who’s ineligible for unemployment benefits how safe he or she feels knowing that our boys are blowing stuff up in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the capacious topic of mindlessness, Academy members who voted for the reptilian-faced Republi-sweetie Sandra Bullock were more or less voting for her cleavage. It would have been nice to see Streep win, and to win for a comedy, no less. Sandy, at least, ought to have had the good taste to remember John Simon in her acceptance speech. Without his praise for her off-Broadway endeavors 22 years ago, she might still—deservedly—be waiting tables. — NPT

March 8, 2010

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Noted briefly: Oscar noms

Given that our nation’s critics (almost all of whom are center-right in their reacting) failed to champion Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, and Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, it is scarcely a wonder that the three most engaging films of ‘09 were Oscar shut-outs (save for Imaginarium’s nods in costume design and art direction). Demetri Martin, Larry David, and Christopher Plummer all should be in the running for Best Actor, instead of the current crop of granite-faced milquetoasts thrust on parade.

Continue reading at Salon.

SIFF 34: Dispatch Three

Much more entertaining and enjoyable than any movie I’ve seen in the last several days was actor F. Murray Abraham’s refreshingly plainspoken talk about his life in the theatre and the disappointments of his post-Amadeus film career. Holding court for a too-short 90 minutes at Northwest Film Forum this past Memorial Day, Abraham, every bit the engaging charmer, reminisced about working with Milos Forman, Woody Allen, and Lina Wertmüller (the last of whom confessed to him, over a few glasses of wine in between takes, “I haven’t been able to make a good movie since I got rich”).

Abraham also offered a delightfully contrarian dismissal of Daniel Day-Lewis: “He has scorn for acting. If you have to have surgery, you don’t go to a surgeon who operates once every three or four years. He makes shoes or something.”

Asked by moderator Jeff Shannon to elaborate on what he meant by saying “I teach arrogance” to his acting students, Abraham replied: “All of art is basically arrogance. Any creative artist is arrogant. You’re a creator—what does that put you next to? How else can you stand up in front of 5000 people and not control them, but take them with you?” Of his own training, he confessed that the longer he studied with Uta Hagen, the worse he got—that in emulating her techniques, he lost his own: “Don’t fall under their influence completely, forgetting everything you know. Don’t try too hard to please—find your own way.”

When Shannon asked Abraham what he ideally wants from a director, the actor stated, “A nose for truth. Milos Forman had it. There aren’t many who do,” and he added with a broad smile, “If you’ve seen some of the terrible movies I’ve been in, you know what I’m talking about!” On whether to refuse or acquiesce to a director’s demands to play a scene a certain way: “If a director is adamant about something you know is wrong, give it all you’ve got—to prove that they’re full of shit.”

If Abraham, dressed very informally in black cargo pants and a red and white long-sleeved “The Complete Works” t-shirt (American Airlines lost his luggage, he explained), seemed in his New York energy a tad supercilious, it was always with more than a dash of self-deprecation. I was amazed and moved when he admitted, “What’s happening at this point in my career is—I need help! Directors are afraid of me.”

Which brings us to the elephant in the room, candidly confronted: “I had certain demands when I won the Academy Award. I would only do starring roles, not supporting ones. If you say no often enough, people stop asking . . . ”

Continue reading at Slant.

Re-visiting Maria Full of Grace: a chat with Catalina Sandino Moreno and Joshua Marston, plus a few comments on the Oscar noms

catalinaSaving Grace—the Academy nominates Catalina Sandino Moreno (Photo courtesy of Cinema Seattle)

The Oscar nominations last week brought very little news of interest to the discriminating moviegoer. True, there was The Story of the Weeping Camel, out there by its lonesome, an oasis amidst the insipid Best Documentary nominees. And one could take heart at the complete shutout of such ballyhooed trash as Dogville, Garden State, and De-Lovely. Still, the dunderheads who populate the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by and large made depressingly cautious and blandly conservative choices, ones that reflect to a great degree the depressingly cautious, blandly conservative votes cast by our nation’s absurd critics’ groups. (In other words, what could be more sickening than Clint Eastwood’s idiotic false modesty, except perhaps the preening desperation of Martin Scorsese?)

When the Academy nominates (by mistake, I’m sure) a worthwhile film, it’s usually damned by faint recognition: a single nod toward Before Sunset; a token two for The Sea Inside. Maria Full of Grace, which might well have been nominated for Best Picture, for both the direction and screenplay of Joshua Marston, for Jim Denault’s cinematography, and for Patricia Rae’s supporting performance as Carla, a Colombian immigrant living in Queens, New York, received from the Academy a sole acknowledgment, albeit a major one: for the leading actress Catalina Sandino Moreno in her first film role.

Continue reading “Re-visiting Maria Full of Grace: a chat with Catalina Sandino Moreno and Joshua Marston, plus a few comments on the Oscar noms”

This Property is Condemned: My Architect

architect

I had planned to be lenient on Nathaniel Kahn’s self-serving vanity project My Architect. However, in light of the film’s recent Oscar nomination for best documentary, an undeserved nod that shuts out the vastly superior Stone Reader, I’m left with little choice but to wield my hatchet.

My Architect should be chiefly remembered as a case study of a filmmaker at odds with his own best footage. Continue reading “This Property is Condemned: My Architect