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3000 Miles to Graceland

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This is a terrible, horrible film, a big-budget student film with stupidity and insipidity written all over it. AOL Keyword: Suck. Imagine Ice-T, suspended by his ankles and sliding along a cable suspended from the ceiling, in the line of fire, spinning and shooting his guns. This was supposed to be the moment when people go, “Wow, bad ass.” Instead, the meager audience, weary from groaning and giggling and snorting with derision for two hours, laugh out loud, so desperate are they for entertainment in this wasteland of awfulness. Even Las Vegas isn’t this cheesy.

Yeah, I knew Kevin Costner was in it. I knew the rest of the cast was not enough to make up for Costner’s inherent shoddiness factor, but I had no idea the movie could fail on so many levels! The first five minutes is a rock and roll video of two CGI scorpions in a weird, video-game-like battle to their mutual plastic deaths. Very, very telling. Bookending the film is a freakodopolis curtain call of Kurt Russell singing an Elvis number with a music video montage of shots from the movie, and the actors (most of whom are dead by the time the film ends) grinning and waving guns in front of accelerated shots of Las Vegas.

The soundtrack is weird – the idea (a casino robbery by a group of guys dressed as Elvis during an Elvis convention) is almost too thin for a Saturday Night Live sketch (which, if made, would only feel half as long). It’s White Trash and Two Smoking Barrels, i.e. Demian Lichtenstein saw that movie and said, “neat,” but forgot the part about story, acting, character, or dialogue. So we have some unnecessarily cool zooms and cuts on things that aren’t very important, a precocious child with a future in crime, and Courteney Cox Arquette rethinking her entire career. The high part of the film is Kevin Pollack and Thomas Haden Church as (gulp) Federal agents. That’s all – they don’t actually do anything, but the scenes in which they are allowed to speak are almost as good as a Shannon Tweed film festival.

It’s an indiscriminate little-boy shoot-em up joyride through nothing, culminating in a poorly-executed sort-of movie that also features Howie Long. Why would anyone go to see this film? I saw it, frankly, because it opened. It’s weak. It’s boring. It’s laughably stupid. At times (see aforementioned Church and Pollack, also Jon Lovitz) I thought, “Well, I could give this a Catch It On Network TV rating” which gives no money to the studio but gives you something to laugh about with your friends; the problem is, the networks would cut out the only “good” parts, i.e. the strong violence, the sex, and the cussing. It’s rank and wretched and I have a lot of making-up to do with my companion, who was shaken and angered by the horribly insulting loss of time from his life. And they don’t even go to Graceland. Sheesh!

MPAA Rating R-STRONG violence sexuality language
Release date 2/3/00
Time in minutes 125
Director Demian Lichtenstein
Studio Warner Brothers

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Isn't She Great

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No, she’s not. The preview fooled me. I had no idea it would be a smarmy biopic about Jacqueline Susann, who wrote the then-groundbreaking Valley of the Dolls. Basically the majority of the stuff that makes this movie enjoyable (besides the painful production design – and it’s painful because it’s true what they say about the 60’s and 70’s!) is in the preview. John Cleese and David Hyde Pierce aside, this seemed like a flamboyantly trashy, can’t lose comedy with two very funny comedy vets, Bette Midler and Nathan Lane. Yes, yes, I know they have done some stinkers before, but my god, I mean, how could I know?

Oh I am ashamed. And it took me forever just to get around to reviewing it, because it was so wretched that I wasn’t sure if I should admit to having seen it. Now I have to generate enough content to convince you not to go. From what I could see of the box office, and the empty seats around me, that won’t be too much of a problem.

Bette Midler plays Jackie Susann, and to be completely fair, the character is perfect for Midler’s particular brand of…whatever – she can pull off crass trash and glowing diva with the best of them, and Susann’s story was not known to me, so in that respect I was interested by the story. Nathan Lane is inexplicably drawn to Susann, and perhaps his real-life counterpart was gay as well, but he is thrown away in Susann’s shadow (much like his real-life counterpart) in this script.

Stockard Channing, also a glam-trash diva herself, gets a little screen time being extremely fabulous (her bits are the most watchable in the film) and the rest of the folks behave in a shockingly tiresome and predictable way, especially considering it is a true story and one with which I was not familiar. Oh woe is me! If you’re interested in fashion from the 1960’s and 1970’s and narcissistic ingrates, go for it! It’s not fair to say Jacqueline Susann was an ingrate – but it took personal tragedy for her to appreciate anything, and even then…

The title comes from Lane’s character’s constant extroverted support for his wife – and he is pretty much relegated to trying to prove to the world how great she is. Maybe she is/was, but the movie isn’t. Not unlike another biopic about an abrasive celebrity (Man on the Moon), Isn’t She Great offers us thin (if any) insight into what drives the main character – we just watch her go and go and go and abrade and abrade and abrade. It did make me want to read Valley of the Dolls, however, even though probably by today’s standards, Valley of the Dolls is as shocking as Peyton Place.

Skip the movie, read the book, and go see Galaxy Quest again.

MPAA Rating R for language.
Release date 1/28/00
Time in minutes 90
Director Andrew Bergman
Studio Universal Pictures

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Eye of the Beholder

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Do you like stalker movies? Do you like deeply disturbed people to be drawn together despite any sort of narrative sense (until it is revealed to be hokey)? But, more importantly, do you like to see cool things and beautiful people? This sounds harsher than I mean it. Ewan McGregor is a top spy for some organization who ends up pursuing Ashley Judd on several levels – they call to each other, psychologically, and it’s interesting…but it’s not enough. Even with my personal snowglobe fetish (they figure prominently into the very interesting editing and character habits), I can’t elevate this above Rental level, because it was creepy, worth seeing, but kind of dumb.

Cool stuff: Ewan and Ashley are always good, even when they are in trash. This movie is certainly better than trash, so that is a big bonus. For some fantastic reason lost to me, everyone (particularly women) is dressed in chic 60’s spy movie wardrobes, possibly straight off the truck of an Sean Connery 007 movie, despite this one being set in extremely high tech times. Ewan’s mental dynamic is personified by a solid person (a conceit also used in Cradle Will Rock) which is still an interesting film convention. The editing is really interesting and even inspired at times. Jason Priestley defies type in a small role. Oodles of snowglobes from all over make me lust for more. The film is permeated by a dim but palpable sense of craziness. It sucks you in despite being kind of kooky. k.d. lang has a small part, not done well, but it’s kind of interesting. Actually, everything Ms. lang (ms. lang?) does contributes to the majority of the hackneyed feeling I got watching the film.

Regrettable stuff: k.d. lang doesn’t sing. Ewan doesn’t show an inch of skin. Ashley does, several inches in fact. A very Movie of the Week little idiosyncrasy that Judd exhibits when she’s being naughty. A Movie of the Week subplot involving Genevieve Bujold serves as lame motivator (but, to its credit, have a nice understated payoff in the third reel). The concept that unresolved and scary psychological issues are the best reason to motivate anyone. Ewan’s character is named The Eye. The most regrettable thing is how the movie thinks that it is making a grand opera of tragic fantasy and manipulation of fate and distance and blah blah blah…but it’s not. I quote: “a startling journey into obsession,” but we don’t really know why their obsessions would make them behave so counter to what they should have done. For example, a paranoid schizophrenic would post flyers around their neighborhood stating the location of their spare key and major phobias, if they were in this movie. That’s no good.

Basically what saves this movie is the pure charisma of the leads and the simple mechanical aspects of the film. I suppose its very unpredictability could be an appeal to some, but one of the basic tenets of drama and fiction is that you set up a universe and the rules for that universe, and then you obey those rules. If you take care to establish that he yearns for human contact, and then have him utterly avoid perfect opportunities to achieve that goal, then yeah, everything he does will be a surprise, but a cheap, unearned one. But it’s interesting enough to rent, so do.

MPAA Rating R-strong violence,sexuality,language, brief drugs
Release date 1/24/00
Time in minutes 109
Director Stephan Elliott
Studio Destination Films

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Down to You

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I was sucked into this movie by my irrational desire to relive the good John Hughes teen movie years and my genuine respect for Julia Stiles and Freddie Prinz Jr. as actors. I was rewarded with seeing too very pleasant people have a 45 minute (audience time) cosmically perfect relationship before any kind of inciting incident comes into play. Those of us who have sat, single, watching perfect couples cathect know that while you are happy for them, and possibly your optimism for your own pathetic self was bolstered by the fact that it happened for them, it’s still a tad dull to watch from the outside. Good movie romance is made by tension – be it “can’t get together” tension or “can’t avoid terrible obstacles once together” tension finished up by a great make up kiss, preferably somewhere public and/or meaningful. Tension, we ain’t got. They are an adorable couple, both thrown together randomly and perfect, and we watch them follow their fates and wait for something bad to happen. Sure, we get some laughs. Sure, we get some, “awwww” moments.

Those of us who have had such a smooth transition into what the movie calls “the tingles” (ouch) also know that it is the most fascinating thing ever to happen to us, and it seems like everyone else must want to know all about it. The couple themselves are not regaling their friends with tales of their perfection – they tell us, the audience, through flash forward monologues. As my companion brilliantly observed, it’s the Story of Us, the college years. We don’t know if they are together or apart in this future time from which they are telling their story, and the movie is the journey to find out where they are. OK, it’s nice, it’s pleasant – but the same things that were wrenching and beautiful and painful in Story of Us were…cute and perfect and easy for Down to You.

This film rushes through the stages of their relationship, from the perfect surprises set up by one for the other, to the public declaration of their love through lip-synch (something which, by the way, ever since Ducky did it in Pretty in Pink, has always symbolized unaffected, uninhibited romanticism to me – until it’s now in every stinking movie!), to the magical mystery tour of their private jokes and what have you. Are the coupled in the audience supposed to feel their relationship isn’t magical enough? Are the singles supposed to feel that they aren’t as good looking as Stiles or Prinz and therefore might as well settle for the weird creepy soft-porn star friends of Prinz?

The previews are misleading too – “His friends want him to be a player, but then she showed up” or some such hook like that. Not even! I wrote “aimless and weird” in my notes on two occasions during the film. Things seemed to have built up for a reason just to go nowhere; symbolism is ready to be there but never used (not unlike the similarly dissatisfying She’s All That). If you have a crush on either of these actors, see the movie somehow, because they are truly adorable and telegenic and cute together. But the film itself is like looking at a beautiful two dimensional picture postcard – but from the edge.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 1/22/00
Time in minutes 91
Director Kris Isacsson
Studio Miramax

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1999 Year in Review

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I wouldn’t have the audacity to try and do a decade in review, only because my foray into deep interest in movies was so relatively recent (1995); but certainly the events of 1999 are worthy of summarizing! But what a strange year, after such an Oscar race last year.

What I notice most, going back over my list from 1999, is how many “important” films were just plain boring or unwatchable or underwhelming, while many lighter, more entertaining films (the kinds that never get nominated for Oscars) were just plain old better. There are exceptions on both sides of the fence – American Beauty is both important and awesome; Episode One was neither. But unlike say, last year, which pitted Shakespeare in Love against Life is Beautiful against Saving Private Ryan against Elizabeth against Gods and Monsters – whew! This year, the Oscar contenders are so few, they have had to eliminate a category due to insufficient number of nominees! Oddly enough, the few foreign films aren’t heavy, important movies either – the most widely recognizable one of these is Run Lola Run – not a drama, not about the Holocaust or the Plagues or the British/Irish war or anything remotely more serious than $100,000. And it’s great!

Some of my favorite movies of 1999 were movies that didn’t take themselves seriously at all – and because of it, they eased up on the promotion, eased up on the LIKE THIS MOVIE OR ELSE approach that so many studios have been embracing lately. For example: Lake Placid. Not a brilliant movie, not a fabulous movie, but an extremely entertaining one (like Deep Rising) – silly and not afraid to be so, and therefore much more fun to watch than a laugh-track-deficient Austin Powers sequel or two or three more heinous SNL spinoffs. Movies that were fun for fun’s sake, besides silly little Lake Placid, were Muppets From Space, Galaxy Quest (which is layered and hilarious), Never Been Kissed, Mystery Men, Sleepy Hollow, The Best Man, and American Pie. Some of these deserve better mention than just “fun because they didn’t take themselves seriously,” but I’ll get to that.

In contrast, Phantom Menace, Eyes Wide Shut, Wild Wild West, Austin Powers II, The World is Not Enough – unpleasant, terrible films at worst, crashing bores at least, all insulting the audience’s intelligence while shoving gags down your throat like it was the Gluttony scene from Seven. Kubrick is dead, long live Kubrick – so since he’s dead, you *have* to like this movie, because otherwise you would have wasted a beautiful day in the sunshine. Phantom Menace: It’s Star Wars, so it has to be good. The World is Not Enough: It’s James Bond, so it has to be good. Austin Powers Redux: It’s the exact same jokes you laughed at on video, so it has to be good. Come on! So, while Deuce Bigalow did not qualify for a mention as a pleasant piece of fluff, it at least didn’t make me angry – it’s only crime was stinking.

The forgotten movies: Happy, Texas. Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human (now available on video). Mansfield Park. Rushmore. Go. Did no one see these movies? It’s a shame – I had a great time at all of them. I am amazed Rushmore vanished like it did – too early in the year, I suppose. It’s the best of the forgotten movies.

Muppets from Space is great for you Muppet fans out there who felt betrayed by the Muppet Christmas Carol and never came back – give it a shot, it’s out on video. Mystery Men – very funny, very silly – amazing cast. American Pie – most of you have probably seen this by now, but if you haven’t – run don’t walk! Find out why your coworkers keep talking about one time in band camp. The Best Man – great ensemble work, great story, where did this movie go? I loved it! I nominated it for several things in the OFCS nominations. Galaxy Quest – super duper – and the more you know and love the fans who are the Real Fans, the more you will get it and the more you will laugh. It laughs at and loves so many things, and it even turns a fake hero into a real one. Can’t lose.

Then of course, are the Really Good Movies (and the ones that are Very Good but Could Have Been Less Off-Putting). Obviously, American Beauty is one. I feel that Sixth Sense is another, as is The Iron Giant and Toy Story 2. How about The Matrix? For my dollar, these movies not only gave me all I could ask for in entertainment, but I want to see them again and again – they have good stories, good characters (OK, the Matrix has OK characters), good tension and buildup, good design, great watching. All but the Matrix give you something to think about without hitting you on the head. The Matrix gave you adreno-thinking but was its own little watershed in terms of what can be done in film. This assessment may shock you.

The Off-Putting Ones are Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, and Man in the Moon for the most part – they were well made, interesting, fascinating, but something was missing. Was it a sense of peace, as in Fight Club or Magnolia? Was it a sense of who the pivotal character is, as in Being John Malkovich or Man in the Moon? Or was it just a need for something less innovative and different? God forbid, right? All worthy of note, and I will be curious to see how these hold up in a year or two.

Cinematographers take note: A lot of movies depended on and/or benefited heavily from fantastic locations, cinematography, and production design, but left audiences feeling left out: Anna and the King (which I liked), Talented Mr. Ripley (which I loathed), The Messenger, 13th Warrior, The Haunting, Wild Wild West and Phantom Menace, In Dreams. Some of these I enjoyed for what they were (such as the 13th Warrior) and some I could not forgive for sucking so badly (I think I have mentioned the ones I mean already). But by Grabthar’s hammer, they all looked amazing. Except Ripley was out of focus a lot – what’s up with that?

And what about the Blair Witch Project? Certainly it was significant! And it was. Blair Witch did what every student filmmaker dreams of – took an inexpensive little foray into creativity and made it a Hollywood Player. That’s been done, of course, before BWP, with El Mariachi and others since then. What BWP did was more insidious and brilliant – the first exclusively web-driven publicity campaign, banking on word of mouth and a creepy Quicktime preview to pack the houses far more effectively than Phantom Menace. So it made a higher per-screen average than the biggest blockbuster film of 1999. So what? It’s just box office numbers – how was the movie? BWP was not totally satisfying, it made a lot of people motion sick (I read that), and it was not even all that scary. But you know what? It was **brilliantly** executed, totally committed to its “cinema veritÂŽ,” and it cost, like, ten bucks to make. The Blair Witch has opened doors for the amateurs in ways El Mariachi could not – and whether or not you think about per-screen average, you can bet Hollywood does. And hopefully my dream of the box office actually starting to reward studios for good work or punish them for bad will come true!

Oh and I would like to mention that I saw Galaxy Quest for the second time last night and I laughed at the whole movie all over again, possibly more than I did the first time. It’s clear that some mildly objectionable material was cut and dubbed over (a la a TV broadcast of a movie with cursing) so I hope someday to have a chance to see the scenes that were cut.

1999 may have been a thin year for the Oscars, but it was a great year for just pure fun. Which is really all we should ever ask – make me laugh, make me cry, make me think, make me sigh. And don’t call me stupid.

Last but not least, my own website, will be up soon, so keep an eye out for that. I appreciate all my subscribers and I thank you guys for sending me to your friends and coworkers…thank you for your support!


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Oscar Picks 1999

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1999 Oscar Race!

It seems weird calling it the 1999 Oscar Race, what with it being 2000 and all, but hey. This race is one of the hardest ones I can recall – before I really cared about movies, I had seen maybe 12% of the offerings and I had emotional reasons to yell at the screen when my favorite horse didn’t win. But now I am supposed to know it all (ha ha you may laugh now) and it seems harder and harder every year. Except Titanic, that was pretty cut and dried.
If you don’t win your office poll, you can at least expound on the virtues of your rightness.
The best part is, since 4/5 of the ballots were lost in the mail initially, one wonders how the vote will turn out – will they get a full count in time? You can bet Price Waterhouse isn’t talking.

1. Best Picture: ”American Beauty,” ”The Cider House Rules,” ”The Green
Mile,” ”The Insider,” ”The Sixth Sense.”

This is the race we are all really excited about, right? Moving drama, scenery chewing, deep introspective verbage, and dead people. Who who who will win? American Beauty, of course, and arguably the first Best Picture winner to really deserve it for years. Come on, think about it – we clearly all loved Titanic (look at the grosses) but it was no Gandhi or Silence of the Lambs. In fact, Lambs is the only reason Sixth Sense could have been nominated – it’s got Bruce Willis and dead people! *I* loved it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the usual Academy fodder. And all the other stuff was just OK. Additionally, the subject matter is most appealing to the representative voters – no abortions, no prisons, no ghosts, no big tobacco – just a mid life crisis in suburbia.

2. Actor: Russell Crowe, ”The Insider”; Richard Farnsworth, ”The Straight
Story”; Sean Penn, ”Sweet and Lowdown”; Kevin Spacey, ”American Beauty”;
Denzel Washington, ”The Hurricane.”

This may be inflammatory, but I call it as I see it – The last time a black man won best actor was Sidney Poitier a thousand years ago. So, the Academy could say “it’s time to reward Denzel for his spectacular work and 3 snubs/nominations” or they could go “we only vote for our own kind” and then it’s between Crowe and Spacey. Spacey’s won before and may some day be the Meryl Streep of Best Actor nominations. Crowe is so unrecognizable from role to role (a compliment) he may accidentally lock himself out by seemingly having no history. Let’s not forget how good 40 yr. old Denzel looked as a hot headed young boxer and then a grizzled con after 16 years in prison, with no makeup (see Makeup nomination for Life). Sean Penn was honored just to be nominated – I think the Academy is still scared of him. And poor Jim Carrey. What does a guy have to do these days?

3. Actress: Annette Bening, ”American Beauty”; Janet McTeer,
”Tumbleweeds”; Julianne Moore, ”The End of the Affair”; Meryl Streep,
”Music of the Heart”; Hilary Swank, ”Boys Don’t Cry.”

I didn’t see Boys Don’t Cry for one reason and one reason only and that is the ending. But all I have heard is Swank Swank Swank, every magazine, every article, every friend who saw the film. If she weren’t in the picture, I would have to say Bening would take it home, (she was just as good as she always is) but McTeer gave me my favorite performance of these actresses in general (not just the films nominated). So, Swank it is. I feel sorry for Julianne Moore since she “deserves” it more than either of them, but neither Magnolia nor End of the Affair were the magnum opus Boogie Nights was. And Oscar loves gender bending!

4. Supporting Actor: Michael Caine, ”The Cider House Rules”; Tom Cruise,
”Magnolia”; Michael Clarke Duncan, ”The Green Mile”; Jude Law, ”The
Talented Mr. Ripley”; Haley Joel Osment, ”The Sixth Sense.”

Jude Law has cleaned up in some pre-Oscar awards races, but I don’t know what everyone is in such a lather about. Tom Cruise has gotten his best reviews in years (including from this reporter) but I feel the Academy won’t cozy up to his unsympathetic character or his C word habit. Haley Joel Osment is my personal choice, but he’s the youngest nominee EVER (he’s 11) and what if that perfect performance was a fluke? I hope not – but hello? Michael Caine any one? He’s 1. old 2. British 3. did a different dialect for the first time in his career and 4. old. The Academy loves a trouper. To me, Caine was Business As Usual, but he is more along their patterns AND he’s a veteran. Michael Clarke Duncan probably won’t get it because it was a Stephen King movie, no matter how nice it was. **BUT** he might because of the split votes among the kid, the misogynist, and the abortionist (and the pretty boy nonentity) – *and* he plays a simpleton. The Academy loves a simpleton!

5. Supporting Actress: Toni Collette, ”The Sixth Sense”; Angelina Jolie,
”Girl, Interrupted”; Catherine Keener, ”Being John Malkovich”; Samantha
Morton, ”Sweet and Lowdown”; Chloe Sevigny, ”Boys Don’t Cry.”

If I could give the award to who deserves it most, it’s Toni Collette, but the Academy won’t pick her, those brutes. Catherine Keener has attracted some attention, but she has been so much better prior to this movie. Angelina Jolie has also picked up some nifty pre-Oscar awards, but I think she suffers from Too Weird syndrome still and the Academy won’t warm up to her. Chloe and Samantha too have gotten some attention – basically everyone is good, probably everyone deserves it equally, and it’s impossible to decide. Sixth Sense as a film got the most nominations so I say, TONI TONI TONI!

6. Director: Sam Mendes, ”American Beauty”; Spike Jonze, ”Being John
Malkovich”; Lasse Hallstrom, ”The Cider House Rules”; Michael Mann, ”The
Insider”; M. Night Shyamalan, ”The Sixth Sense.”

How do we, in the audience, know what makes a great director? How much of the performances on screen does he tease out of an actor, and how much did they fight to represent themselves? How many balls did he have juggling in the air (I am thinking of Titanic, with the water conditions and the FX and the zillions of extras and period details and so on) and how many were handled through brilliant use of resources? I think Spike Jonze made a mess of what could have been something better. I think Hallstrom made the best movie he could make but let the studios muck it up. I have always hated Michael Mann films regardless of who is in them so I think it is him I don’t like. Shyamalan let the actors hold the camera in thrall. Mendes left the characters alone so we could see into their thoughts. Both of these latter two are up for Best Picture, and rarely indeed does the Academy split the vote. Will M. Night get it for working with the kid, and as a consolation prize for not getting Best Picture? Will Mendes get it since he probably will get Best Picture? Tough to say.

7. Foreign Film: ”All About My Mother,” Spain; ”Caravan,” Nepal;
”East-West,” France; ”Solomon and Gaenor,” United Kingdom; ”Under the
Sun,” Sweden.

I am humiliated to report that I saw none of these, but yet since All About My Mother is the only one that is well known, the only one that all the pre-Oscar awards are crowing about, and all about someone’s mother, guess what?

Ah, writing. So notably absent from so many movies these days. It’s the one universal complaint, I notice. “That would have been great if the dialogue hadn’t been so terrible” can be applied to popcorn sci-fi or heady drama, witless comedy or arch brilliance of humor. These films get nominated for not insulting us, for answering the “what if?” question in a way we’ve never thought of, or just generally wowing us with the poetry of language. Go team.

8. Screenplay (written based on material previously produced or published):
John Irving, ”The Cider House Rules”; Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor,
”Election”; Frank Darabont, ”The Green Mile”; Eric Roth and Michael Mann,
”The Insider”; Anthony Minghella, ”The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

The Green Mile is no Shawshank Redemption. and S.R. didn’t win so what hope does King/Darabont have this year? Plus it was too long. Ripley was talentless. The Insider, well, I don’t know. Angry, manly, last year’s Boiler Room? Plus too close to home, too easy to consult the real people and see what they really said. Cider House was at turns too obvious and too delicate. Election – well, that was a comedy, wasn’t it? It can’t win. It was funny! It’s on all the critics’ lists but it’s been months since it came out – and no real campaigning on that film’s behalf has gone on. I shudder – unless Election does win, it will be a throwaway. It sounds snobby to say, but I fear it’s true.

9. Screenplay (written directly for the screen): Alan Ball, ”American
Beauty”; Charlie Kaufman, ”Being John Malkovich”; Paul Thomas Anderson,
”Magnolia”; M. Night Shyamalan, ”The Sixth Sense”; Mike Leigh,

American Beauty, without a doubt. But every script nominated was worthy worthy worthy and beautifully executed – except maybe BJM, it could have been more…more betterer somehow. It was too dependent on the actual filming of it to make it work; it doesn’t read well at all. Topsy Turvy has enough real vs. fictionalized scenes to render it an original screenplay, but it’s a biopic at its heart. But do see it, it’s marvelous.

10. Art Direction: ”Anna and the King,” ”The Cider House Rules,” ”Sleepy
Hollow,” ”The Talented Mr. Ripley,” ”Topsy-Turvy.”

One of my favorite categories. Anna was gorgeous and fantastic but I think the Academy
will give it to Topsy Turvy because it’s about show business, the movie was critically better received, (though less seen) and the research really showed in this one. Sleepy Hollow was gorgeous and fantastic but people really hated it, and the sad truth is, voters have trouble separating their emotional connection to a movie from its artistic merit. Which is why tripe like The English Patient can win best costume over Restoration (!?!?!?!) and how the Talented Mr. Ripley even got a nomination here. The Cider House Rules suffered from much the same thing. Do I think it’s too recent a time period to be winning-caliber? Heck no – the medical instruments alone got Cider House nominated – but there was so much MORE to Anna and the King, Topsy Turvy, and Sleepy Hollow. Tough call all around, though.

11. Cinematography: ”American Beauty,” ”The End of the Affair,” ”The
Insider,” ”Sleepy Hollow,” ”Snow Falling on Cedars.”

Poor Sleepy Hollow! Given its due in technical and artistic nominations, but always against greater foes. American Beauty’s cinematography was too subtle (like Shawshank Redemption, which should have beaten Legends of the Fall – how hard is it to make Montana look pretty?) for most people to even think of it as having been shot – save the great framing of video image and mirror reflection and TV screen…I hear Snow Falling on Cedars is beautiful to look at and of course I know Sleepy Hollow is fantastic to see. But Hollow owes it more to great Art Direction than great camera work, and I suspect Cedars and Beauty will duke it out in the ballot box. I can’t believe Anna and the King wasn’t nominated – I literally felt weepy looking at that movie (in a good way)!

12. Sound: ”The Green Mile,” ”The Insider,” ”The Matrix,” ”The
Mummy,” ”Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

13. Sound Effects Editing: ”Fight Club,” ”The Matrix,” ”Star Wars –
Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

Sound vs. Sound Effects Editing. Entertainment Weekly was kind enough to put this in layman’s terms this week, so I will share their wisdom, and then share my thoughts.
“Sound Effects Editing honors the engineers who invent and prepare the ‘unnatural’ sounds.” For example, the roar of a T. rex in Jurassic Park was a whale mixed with a tiger and some mechanical noise if I remember correctly. “Sound, meanwhile, goes to the mixers who put it all together with dialogue, music, visual effects, and foley work” (natural noises). So when you notice the old-fashioned tea kettle in The Sweet Hereafter making a noise like your modern one with a whistle installed, that’s bad Sound. However, loathe as I am to admit it, stuff like force fields and pod races are what Sound Effects Editing is all about. It seems, with these definitions, Fight Club should have been nominated for Sound, and The Mummy for SFX Editing, but hey. It’s down to the Matrix vs. The Force and whoever wins one will win the other, as usual. I loved the pod races.

14. Original Score: ”American Beauty,” Thomas Newman; ”Angela’s Ashes,”
John Williams; ”The Cider House Rules,” Rachel Portman; ”The Red Violin,”
John Corigliano; ”The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Gabriel Yared.

Always a tough category – if you notice the score, then it is failing at its job, which is to supplement the action and provide mood, etc. etc. We get caught up in soundtracks and marketing tie ins but what it means is that John Williams will finally be able to complete his Academy Awards Chess Set (TM) after all these years of terrific work.

15. Original Song: ”Blame Canada” from ”South Park: Bigger, Longer and
Uncut,” Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman; ”Music of My Heart” from ”Music of
the Heart,” Diane Warren; ”Save Me” from ”Magnolia,” Aimee Mann; ”When
She Loved Me” from ”Toy Story 2,” Randy Newman; ”You’ll be in My Heart”
from ”Tarzan,” Phil Collins.

The Golden Globes honored the one who was misplaced-ly nominated – it should have been “Two Worlds” from Tarzan and not “You’ll Be Overplayed On The Radio.” the best part about this category is that no matter who wins, we get to hear them all – and Anne Murray turned down the gig (really!) to sing “Blame Canada,” leaving us wishing, maybe for the first time in our lives, that Celine Dion would perform. My prediction for the winner will be this simple Academy formula: WHEN Nominees includes Alan Mencken THEN Mencken=Winner. WHEN Nominees Includes Randy Newman/Disney THEN Newman = Winner. Sad but true – but at least Randy didn’t sing this time. And the song actually served the film.

16. Costume: ”Anna and the King,” ”Sleepy Hollow,” ”The Talented Mr.
Ripley,” ”Titus,” ”Topsy-Turvy.”

Titus was too cartoony (and, to its detriment, too creative – I’ve seen it hurt films in the past) and a real turn off. Anna was visually exquisite and the Siamese fashion trend in the malls won’t hurt it, but Topsy Turvy (like Elizabeth) covered many aspects of costume, including stage costume, family costume, undergarments, and medical stuff. Again, Sleepy Hollow was divine, and it won’t get it because it’s Tim Burton. A shame a shame. And again, freaking Ripley – I have no idea how it got nominated but if it wins I will just throw up.

17. Documentary Feature: ”Buena Vista Social Club,” ”Genghis Blues,” ”On
the Ropes,” ”One Day in September,” ”Speaking in Strings.”

We all know it will be the much-over-hyped Buena Vista Social Club, so why are we even talking about it? I like the title Genghis Blues, though.

18. Documentary (short subject): ”Eyewitness,” ”King Gimp,” ”The Wildest
Show in the South: The Angola Prison Rodeo.”

Angola won the guy something last year, and the lack of access to this kind of work makes it impossible to guess. Go Rodeo!

19. Film Editing: ”American Beauty,” ”The Cider House Rules,” ”The
Insider,” ”The Matrix,” ”The Sixth Sense.”

American Beauty will either sweep the coin flip categories (and then get snubbed for director/picture) or ONLY get best picture/director and everyone else will split up the “dinky prizes.” But The Matrix is nominated here, and there was a WEE bit of editing in that one, you know, what with the 90 cameras every 3 degrees and all that. BUT they might lose because that kind of digital inference editing is “cheating.” Some editors have judged the Sixth Sense perfect, editing-wise, because every shot is necessary (oh, yeah, remember that rule?) and I vote for that one because the visual communication of that movie is so necessary to be precise. Dang, every year I wish a movie had not come out so another could win. Can’t we have a tie?

20. Makeup: ”Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” ”Bicentennial Man,”
”Life,” ”Topsy-Turvy.”

Fat Bastard. Robot Williams. Old black cons. Light opera with the gout. The Academy never votes according to the more serious conventions of Academy-friendly (which many of these are not, film-wise) or No Comedy Allowed or even the unfortunate continuing prevalence of race bias in the system. But I can tell you one thing: Fat Bastard will not win. Me, I’d give it to Bicentennial Man or Topsy Turvy, I will have to decide myself on the day of. Topsy had more research to do, but B. Man had more creativity to do. Isn’t it interesting that all that showy makeup in Phantom Menace didn’t get a nod (I’m thinking largely of Darth Maul’s pretty groovy face)?

21. Animated Short Film: ”Humdrum,” ”My Grandmother Ironed the King’s
Shirts,” ”The Old Man and the Sea,” ”3 Misses,” ”When the Day Breaks.”

Usually one just picks the Pixar film and that’s that one answered – but this year, no Pixar! Fortunately, Humdrum, by the makers of Wallace and Gromit, is always the backup default contender. Hooray for animation! Boo for how hard it is to get to see it! I really shouldn’t complain, the Oscars are the only major awards that even acknowledge the genre. Soon Best Animated Feature Film will have to be a category. And then, Iron Giant should have taken it this year, despite how delicious Toy Story 2 is.

22. Live Action Short Film: ”Bror, Min Bror (Teis and Nico),” ”Killing
Joe,” ”Kleingeld (Small Change),” ”Major and Minor Miracles,” ”My
Mother Dreams the Satan’s Disciples In New York.”

Hard to say – shorts in general are not presented for Mr. and Mrs. American Audience to peruse and make our own decisions. This category I tend to pick by title, and it’s between Killing Joe and Kleingeld. Since it’s one letter away from “Killing Zoe,” I think Joe’s got it.

23. Visual Effects: ”The Matrix,” ”Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom
Menace,” ”Stuart Little.”

As my sage former roommate quipped, “The whole freakin’ movie was a special effect, how can they not get the award?” To reply, I paraphrase Bart Simpson: It both sucks and blows. It will be a grudge match. The Matrix was infinitely better received and made judicious and delicious use of new technology. However, it was gratuitously violent. Phantom Menace was badly received, used really nice tried and true technology, and was gratuitously pandering. Stuart Little, bless his little heart, was the only one using the new whiz-bang fur textures so convincingly, and since it was a kiddie movie (Star Wars wasn’t?) it will be ignored. “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”

So, as you can see, I’m not sure – why should you be? But seriously folks, this is going to be one edge-of-your-seat broadcast – Annette Bening is way pregnant and presenting, someone will sing the dirty words in “Blame Canada,” and I hear – No Big Musical Number! What will they fill all that empty time with, acceptance speeches? I can’t wait to see Billy Crystal’s parody reel – I imagine he will be playing the plastic bag.

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Galaxy Quest

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The first time I saw this preview, I thought, the only way this movie could have been funnier is if they actually got the real crew of Star Trek to play these roles – have Shatner as Shatner, being forced to become a real hero as his Captain James Tiberius Kirk role is made real, etc. It’s a fantastic little plot idea that was played out very well. At the beginning of the movie, my companion and I were recasting the movie, first with original Trek actors, then with the various Kids in the Hall playing the aliens who seek the Galaxy Quest crew’s help. By the end, however, I don’t think either of us would have had the movie any other way (and we still got a cameo by Kevin MacDonald from Kids in the Hall!).

Read On

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The Talented Mr. Ripley

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What a mess. Characters come and go. They behave in inexplicable ways that remain unexplained. They are generally nice to look at but pale beneath the incredible Tuscan and Roman scenery playing out behind them. Matt Damon looks horribly out of place (as I suppose he should) in another boring, almost-interesting-yet-repellent movie helmed by the English Patient’s Anthony Minghella. I wasn’t even going to bother seeing this movie, what with the year-end crunch and all, but a trusted source said it was good. Oh heavens! I just found myself thinking “what?” and “why?” and “ugh” throughout. My much more tolerant (in general) companion also sneered and grunted with dissatisfaction and could offer me no assistance when random characters appeared and suddenly became very important. Oh, but look at that lovely island off of Italy, you know, the one with the castle or monastery or whatever it is on it. Isn’t it pretty? What? Oh I don’t know who that guy is. Is she sleeping with him? Is he in love with Matt Damon? Why is everyone else?

Gwyneth Paltrow was bland and given nothing to do. Jude Law was handsome and sexy (and had a smashing American accent, as did Cate Blanchett) but basically handsome and sexy and weird. Cate – wasted but the closest thing to amusing, with her rich-girl-who-detests-money business. Philip Seymour Hoffman, such an up and comer (as was Ralph Fiennes during That Other Movie), makes me never want to see him again. Thank goodness I saw Magnolia before this! The jazz clubs were nice, the clothes were unflattering, and in the final mix, I felt like I had eaten about 5 pounds of bad cheese. How massively disappointing!

Why do I say Network Premiere instead of Avoid at All Costs? The scenery is quite stunning, really, and maybe you, Gentle Readers, can make some sense of this malarkey. It’s not even sense that it is missing, per se – I mean, I know why (sort of) Damon’s character does what he does, from a big picture perspective, but I can’t imagine what motivates his smaller actions. Just like the cold, passionless blah affair and the non-sequitur nursing silliness from English Patient, and not unlike older foreign movies that have been (through no fault of their own) badly translated into English to the point of incomprehensibility – this movie was long, seemed longer, and I came away with nothing. Yuck!

I have no idea why this movie came off so badly – it’s an interesting idea, it carried the interesting idea places I did not expect, it had some super duper photography and some seriously half-assed watered down homoerotic undertones that really only left me more confused when the intrigue wore off – is he gay or are those people supposed to think he’s gay? What about that guy? Wait, in the credits, it named someone’s fiancé? When did we see him? Did they switch reels by mistake? Not a great start to the new year, let me tell you!

MPAA Rating R for violence, language and brief nudity.
Release date 12/25/99
Time in minutes 139
Director Anthony Minghella
Studio Paramount Pictures

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Whew! I’ve gotta say, this movie is exhausting. Directed by Julie Taymor (who, despite no information on the IMDB, is apparently an amazing theatre director), Titus is a huge, epic semi-modernization of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Taymor also wrote the screenplay, I should add – and the writer/director/theatre influence is very strong. At first I thought it was a very French take on an English work – surreal, sexual, concerned with strong imagery when the language is so dense. Later I came to feel that it was just extremely theatrical – but instead of building sets they found fantastic settings in Rome and Zagreb that were surreally unfamiliar and yet perfect.

From a technical standpoint, Titus is very bold and colorful and loud and tragic and huge. From a literary standpoint, it’s relentless misery, unbroken by comic relief, unlike so many of Shakespeare’s other works. From a design standpoint, it’s more classical than say, 1996’s Romeo + Juliet (you know, with Leo), and less of a total reinvention of a world than 1995’s Richard III. So we have incredible Roman soldiers with helmets and swords and shinplates marching in a cool opening sequence – and then we have motorcycles. The good and bad factions are as clearly outlined as cowboys with white and black hats in an old western. But, thankfully, with a creepy, Cabaret-style flamboyance (thanks in part to bizarre but perfect casting of Alan Cumming as Saturninus). All the casting is good, the performances are good, but dear lord that play doth drag on and on, taking with it the golden streams of afternoon and the heady hours of my youth.

Woe betide he who drinketh from the fountain of soft drinks before he views this tragedie of the highest order. Glad tidings to tell that despite the atrocities performed by all involved in this terrible tale of deeds, most of them are done offstage, in the classic Greco-Roman (and Shakespearean) tradition. Alas I cannot cleave to Jessica Lange, despite her performance of strength and bile. And oh, what is that terrible compositing stuff doing in this film?

Location location location – wheresoe’er one needs must find oneself in need of a place so rare, so beauteous in its splendor or simple in its grimness, hie thee to cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, for his eye is sharp, his wit is keen, his purpose, unbending. Some of the production design doth reek of the old school – the reds and whites and blacks which served King Richard III so well but now, without those Nazi parallels, seems too stark and obvious for such complex counter-revenge. I was lost a lot of the time, despite some comfort with the Shakespearean tongue, but even the most obscure of moments in plot were rendered vivid and true tripping over the lips of Sir Anthony Hopkins. And yea the barren skin of many hedonists was spread across mine eyes in flesh and in art – observe ye the Greek friezes painted on the walls of one of the many big, fabulous chambers.

The short version is, it was really well done, but it was not my cup of tea at all. If you love Titus Andronicus, I suspect you will love this movie.

MPAA Rating R for strong violent and sexual images.
Release date 12/25/99 NY/LA
Time in minutes 162
Director Julie Taymor
Studio Fox Searchlight

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This is not going to play well in Anytown, USA. It is non-linear, it is slow moving, it has blatant as well as subtle symbolism, it has unresolved issues, unlikeable people, lots of hate and fury and trouble, lots of tension and it always seems to cuts away just as it gets good. It is brilliantly acted, carefully structured, and bizarrely resolved. Everyone on screen is pouring their guts out, some in a flamboyant way (the always great Julianne Moore, and Tom Cruise, who, despite playing a detestable bastard, is fabulous) and some in a quietly painful way (Jason Robards, William H. Macy, more). I couldn’t possibly give anything away except to advise you to stick it out to the end (unlike many of my fellow audience members) – a very unexpected payoff-cum-newly unresolved situation is amazingly rendered. That’s all I can say.

Another way to put it would to say that Boogie Nights looked like a Disney film compared to this one, structurally as well as message-wise. I still have not seen Paul Thomas Anderson’s first movie, Hard Eight, but I still want to. Magnolia is much more overstyled than Boogie Nights- it has more edits, more surreality, more weird references (watch for Exodus 8:2 hints but don’t look it up before you go) at the same time that it has more tight, real human pain (much of it unexplained, seemingly from nowhere) than six other movies. The acting is all this movie really is – for most of the film, or all of it for some characters, I don’t know why any character is acting the way she is, I just am enjoying watching it. I don’t know what brought these people to this point, these intersecting points of this moment in time, but they are amazing to watch while they are there. I was interested in all the stories but left frustrated by some of the gaps. I was searching for a reason for the magnolia but I only saw it in the set decorations. Everyone is really good, and the camera loves their interesting faces – most of the people are not standard Hollywood telegenic except for Moore, Cruise, and the kid, Jeremy Blackman, and these actors have to work harder to overcome their natural beauty on camera.

Another reviewer said this about Being John Malkovich (and I totally agree, wish I had said it), but it also sums up how I feel about Magnolia (totally different films, by the way) – I enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I liked it. As I am typing this review, I am wondering, what would I rate this? The acting is Full Price all the way, but Joe Average (not to underestimate my audience) is not going to take to this movie. I don’t even know if I liked it or not, I just know what I thought about it. In the quick glance, it will seem as though I don’t respect this movie for what it is, and my readers might not go. I want people to go, but I don’t want people to be misled. Magnolia is fascinating, like watching open heart surgery or an entomology special on Discovery Channel is fascinating – not things you want to come rushing into your own life, but morbidly gripping our attention anyway.

MPAA Rating R for strong language, drug use, sexuality and some violence.
Release date 12/17/99
Time in minutes 180
Director Paul Thomas Anderson
Studio New Line Cinema