Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscarmania 2011

Cute-But-No-Cigar Award--Opening Hathaway/Franco/Baldwin/Inception Footage

Self-Aware Banter Award—Co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway

Young Gun Becomes Elder Spokesman Overnight Award--Tom Hanks

Oscar Night Turn of a Phrase Award Part 1--Kirk Douglas: “When I was making pictures…”

Spotlight Grabbing /Method Acting Acceptance Speech Award--Melissa Leo

Welcome to Lowell, Ma Award--Melissa Leo’s F-Bomb

Youth Brigade Coupling of the Evening--Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis

Oscar Night Turn of a Phrase Award Part 2--Justin Timberlake: “I’m Banksy.”

Tribute to Warren Beatty & Dustin Hoffman circa Ishtar Award—Josh Brolin & Javier Bardem and their awful-awful white tuxes

Did the Right Thing Award—Power writer Aaron Sorkin invoking screenwriting great Paddy Chayefsky and properly puffing up his director David Fincher

Oscar Night Turn of a Phrase Part 3—Screenwriter David Seidler: “My father always said I’d be a late bloomer.”

Unexpected Pitchman of the Night Award—Christian Bale for

Possible Sign of the Apocalypse Part 1--Trent Reznor wins an Oscar

Best Aside of the Evening Award—The Sound Mixing Award winner commenting that his stellar crew was “Union, of course.”

Be Still My Heart Award—Scarlett Johansson

The Christopher Nolan Drumbeat Continues Award—Best Art Direction,Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing

Best Special Effect Award- James Franco’s increasingly surreal smile

Swellegant Award- Cate Blanchett

The Future is Thiers Award--Michelle Williams, Jennifer Lawrence, Hallie Steinfeld

The Future is Now Award--Natalie Portman

Classy Gal Award—Hilary Swank

Perpetual Bon Vivant Award—Robert Downey Jr.

Best Eyebrow Action Award—James Franco

The Prez Sez Award-- “As Time Goes By” named best movie song by noted cinephile Barack Obama

Oscar Night Turn of a Phrase Award--Invisible Man Kevin Spacey: “I’m George Clooney.”

Good Concept, Ineffectual Delivery Award—The ongoing Oscar history tidbits

Whatever happened to Jennifer Hudson? Hello Jennifer Hudson.

Not Too Funny Award—James Franco in drag

Not Really Funny Award—Russell Brand & Helen Mirren’s translation schtick

Semi-Funny Award- Billy Crystal

Semi-Funnier Award-The Ghost of Bob Hope

Mr. Laconic Award--Jeff Bridges

Actually Funny Award--Sandra Bullock

Funniest Guy of the Night Award-Randy Newman

No Thanks for the Memories Award: To Celine Dion for effectively wringing away the grand memories of the likes of Tony Curtis, Patricia Neal, Pete Postlewhite, Jill Clayburgh, Blake Edwards, Lynn Redgrave, Robert Culp, Arthur Penn, and Dennis Hopper, while simultaneously warbling the one and only Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”.

Sign of the Apocalypse Part 2
- Instant television juxtapostion from the alien-like Celine Dion to the heavenly Lena Horne

Warrior Goddess Award: Kathryn Bigelow

My Lips Are Redder Than Her Lips Award: James Franco

Absolutely Coolest Collection of Peeps on Stage Simultaneously Award: Kevin Brownlow, Francis Ford Coppola and Eli Wallach

King of Shrugs Award--James Franco

Oscar Night Turn of a Phrase Award Part 4 –Colin Firth: “I have a feeling my career just peaked.”

Cheesy but Cool Award—Blink-of-an-eye PS 21 kiddie chorus finale with Oscar winners surrounding them

I am the Mailman, Koo Koo Kachoo--James Franco

(My Oscar pick 'em score? A not so great 17 out of 24.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Ain't Talking About Oscarmayer

The following column is reprinted from the Feburary issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel

Despite the steady proliferation of Award’s show, despite the ongoing barrage of awardees, festival winners, on-line accolade bearers, despite the indisputable presence of The Grammy’s, the Tony’s , the Emmy’s, the Golden Globes, the Razzies, even the Eeenie, Meenie, Miney and Moes, none of the competitors hold a candle as a far as prestige, importance, and actual historical significance like the Academy Awards.

The 83rd Annual Oscar show looms in the near distance, and while I should be donning my coolest threads and stepping out to the VMA on Feburary 27th at 6:30 to catch what promises to be an enjoyable and gussied up night of big screen television viewing presented by the Rhode Island International Film Festival group, I’ll be home safely ensconced on the couch, muttering about the pairing of presenters, waiting for the every-so-often potential moment of weirdness or controversy, and feverishly checking off categories on my well-thought-out Oscar ballot. Yes indeed, I’ll be unabashedly basking in my longtime out-of-the-closet inner cinephile nerdiness. Below, a quick overview of the major awards.

Best Picture
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are Alright
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Should Win: The Social Network. It’s racked up $95 million at the box office , and among the Best Picture Nominees, only True Grit and Toy Story 3 have earned more, but the former was helmed by the Coens, recent award recipients, and the latter is an animated, and Hollywood just isn’t ready to hand out the Grand Wazoo to an animated feature. Also The Social Network is director David Fincher’s best achievement so far, and it danced its dexterous fingers all over the current zeitgeist.

Will Win: The King’s Speech. Hollywood adores all things British, costumed, and historical, and the this one is right up the alley to the vast majority of over-the-hill Academy voters.
Overlooked: The Ghost Writer, The Town, Carlos.

Best Actor
Javier Bardem-Biutiful
Jeff Bridges-True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg-The Social Network
Colin Firth-The Kings SpeechJ
James Franco-127 Hours

Should Win: Javier Bardeem. A power house piece of acting that only James Franco came close to matching, and the acting side of the Hollywood elite (including Julia Roberts and Sean Penn) has been touting Bardeem’s turn all over town.

Will Win: Colin Firth. See aforementioned Oscar predilection for all things British.
Overlooked: Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine), Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter), Robert Duval (Get Low), Michael Douglas (Solitary Man).

Best Actress
Annette Bening-The Kids Are Alright.
Nicole Kidman-Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence-Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman-Black Swan
Michelle Williams-Blue Valentine

Should Win: Annette Bening. A tremendously modulated and affecting performance, plus she’s been nominated three times (The Grifters, American Beauty, Being Julia) and came up short.

Will Win: Natalie Portman. A bravura, showy turn from a good citizen that has grown up on camera in front of the assembled, her votes will be multiplied by a huge dose of her colleague’s good will.

Overlooked: Julianne Moore (The Kids Are Alright), Isabelle Huppert (White Material), Lesley Manville (Another Year).

Best Supporting ActorChristian Bale-The Fighter
John Hawkes-Winter’s Bone
Jeremy Renner-The Town
Mark Ruffalo-The Kids Are Alright
Geoffrey Rush-The King’s Speech

Should Win: Christian Bale. The eye-popping, in-yer-face, take-this-roll-and-grab-it, most magnetic role playing of the year, hands down, in the strongest category, as Hawkes and Renner did splendid work, and Ruffalo just about (despite Benning’s excellence) walks away with his picture.

Will Win: Geoffrey Rush. Hate to say it (or think it) but add another one to the win column for The King’s Speech.

Overlooked: Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), Matt Damon (True Grit).

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams-The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter-The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo-The Fighter
Hallee Steinfield-True Grit
Jacki-Weaver-Animal Kingdom

Should Win: Melissa Leo.

Will Win: Melissa Leo. She’s a great journeyperson actress, she’s campaigned unabashedly for the honor, and someone has to break up the momentum generated by The King’s Speech.

Overlooked: Greta Gerwing (Greenberg), Barbara Hershey (Black Swan), Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are Alright), Ellen Page (Inception).

Darren Aronofsky-Black Swan
David O. Russell-The Fighter
Tom Hooper-The King’s Speech
David Fincher-The Social Network
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen-True Grit

Should Win: David Fincher
Will Win: David Fincher. Its Fincher’s turn, although Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) will be looking closely over his shoulder.

Overlooked: Christopher Nolan (Inception)

Original Screenplay
Mike Leigh-Another Year
Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson; story by keith Dorrington, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson-The Fighter
Christopher Nolan-Inception
Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumber-The Kids Are Alright
David Seidler-The Kings Speech

Should Win: Inception. Writer/director Christopher Nolan non-nomination for Best Director is one of the more blatant snubs in recent Oscar history, there may be enough sympathy or fairness votes to throw him the bone that is Best Original Screenplay.

Will Win: The King’s Speech.

Adapted Screenplay
Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufroy-127 Hours
Aaron Sorkin-The Social NetworkMichael Arndt; story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich-Toy Story 3
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen-True Grit
Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini-Winter’s Bone

Should Win: The Social Network.

Will Win: The Social Network. Hollywood loves it when a premier, big-timey screenwriter like Aaron Sorkin (For a few Good Men, Charlie Wilson’s War )hooks up successfully with a brainy, independent sort of filmmaker like David Fincher (nominated for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, equally as well known for The Fight Club and Se7en ) and they make hay, and heavy duty ticket sales, together.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Greek Coffee

(Reprinted from PopKrazy)

Leslie Buck passed away, at the ripe old age of 87, during 2010, and inexplicably enough, not that many paid much attention to his passing.

Born Lazlo Buch in Khust, Czechoslovakia (now part of the Ukraine), he was a Holocaust survivor who made good in the US, first starting up a paper-cup manufacturing company in Mt Vernon, New York called Premier Cup. It was during the 1960’s that Buck joined the Sherri Cup Co. of Kensington, Conn, and he created one of the most iconic delineation’s of everyday American life, particularly the East Coast version, the exquisitely appealing Anthora paper coffee cup (Buck couldn’t quite pronounce “amphora” correctly), the design adorning coffees served at diners, deli’s, construction sights, factory yards and food carts, sales which peaked at 30 million pieces a year in the 1990’s.

Buck’s coffee cup became an instantly recognizable American artifact, a fairly improbable accomplishment considering its creator was both an immigrant, and artistically untrained. The cup, with its above-and-below border of Greek urns framing a bill boarded white background with a slightly ornate outline, three images of piping coffee cups and the phrase “WE Are Happy To Serve You” etched in a font meant to resemble ancient Greek, remains a totemistic likeness of the highest order.

Buck’s cup immediately conveyed what it set out to: coffee making and drinking as a daily (or hourly) pleasure of the simplest, yet most satisfying order. The years have made it’s lasting image, particularly when gripped in hand (shaky or firm), sends an immediate vibe of well-being, of order, of universal familiarity, of celebratory and tragic times, when a hot cup of Joe served to cure a multiplicity of ills, a direct on-the-spot cure, as countless eyes drank in its serene depiction of everyday classicism.

Fashioned to be tossed away, these cups always held firm and prodded the user back to solid ground (with grounds) and an inherent sense of lean functionality, freezing the moment, typically punctuated by the cups drainage and disposal. (There ain’t nothing more Zen than the exquisitely dream-like state one enters upon completing the purchase, lifting the thin yet perfectly fitted plastic cover, and peering into the perfectly quantified portion of liquid gold before focusing on the task at hand—the first sip translating into direct, immediate sustenance.)

In John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (a pro-forma college text in my higher education days), he discusses some of the effects of what he calls the “publicity image”:

“We are no so accustomed to being addressed by these images that we scarcely notice their total impact. A person may notice a particular image or piece of information because it corresponds to some particular interest he has. But we accept the whole the total system of publicity images as we accept an element of climate…Yet despite this, one has the impression that publicity images are continually passing us, like express trains on their way to some distant terminus. We are static; they are dynamic…”

The Anthora cup is a bonafide artifact, a pop cult object d art, an image and form fused to analogous contents. It was, and remains a simple, pure design worthy of its own Warholization, and if it was framed square in front of a glossy black background in a Soho gallery it would be dissected and discussed with heady terms and suggestions that it directly symbolized both desire and consumption.

Perhaps the vagaries of time will eventually erode the power of this seemingly pedestrian image--Solo Cup, Co out of Illinois, who took over Sherri, only makes the originals upon receiving a special order--but you can be sure the Leslie Buck’s terrific creation will never truly be replaced.

The mental stirrings evoked by it’s pure, straightforward imagery, as one’s hands are warmed by the brimming hot coffee temporarily housed within the container, conjure the type of internal shivers caused by yet another viewing of Citizen Kane’s cinematic perfection, yet another listening of Sinatra’s sonorous emotionalism, yet another glance at one of Edward Hopper’s twilight tableau’s, all of them simple and transcendent, eternally evocative, with Buck’s Anthora cup potentially remembered as among the most unique blendings of form and function, of artful commerce, to ever literally hit the mean streets of America

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bad is Good, Awful Even Better

The following column is reprinted from the Feburary issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel

To many of those of us who follow the wonderfully weird world of commercial cinema there is nothing quite as fascinating as a movie train-wreck or an outright film bomb, that shaggy dog species of pure cinematic failure on either the artistic or commercial plain ---or in the best/worst case scenario, both. Of course, film flops provide a lot of heightened film nitcrit rhetoric, and often an equal amount of finger-pointing and ha-ha fodder for a variety of media types and the general public, although they can be pure talk-talk nirvana for your run-of-the-mill barstool film buff (and I am definitely looking in the mirror as I utter that).

Thus, I bow my head with a combo of deep and overwhelming envy and admiration towards Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club (the sister publication to The Onion) who published one of the more entertaining and erudite movie books of 2010, My Year of Flops (264 pp. Scribner. Paper, $15)), an extremely humorous but strangely respectful small tome devoted to being a largely effervescent look into film flops both big and small, both heralded and obscure, both at the box office and laid out as targets at the movie reviewer’s collective shooting range.

Even the casual filmgoer has some knowledge about big-time movie floparamas, particularly in this era when a film’s weekly intake of cashola gets examined on the pages of USA Today and on the nightly TV entertainment wrap-ups. Any moviegoer with a modicum of knowledge outta be to able to come up with a quick list of infamously failed flicks, from Cleopatra to Gigli, from Paint Your Wagon to Heaven’s Gate, from Ishtar to Waterworld (all of which Rabin examines). Flops are yet another way to peer into the constant push-and-pull between art and commerce that is omnipresent (and often vastly under evaluated) when interpolating the art and craft of moviemaking. What makes an exceptional filmmaker go so strangely astray? How can so many dedicated and truly knowledgeable artisans contribute their earnest and hard-earned efforts to a project that seems so spectacularly stupid? Why green light such obvious crapola? Does more popcorn get consumed during the screening of yet another Hollywood misfire rather than that dripping-with-sincerity offering playing down at the near empty boutique art theater?

Rabin doesn’t have the answers, but he delves into the good, the bad, and the very, very weird without adopting a hipster pose, and with an eyes-wide-open enthusiasm that makes for some trenchant and amusing reading. Calling each movie reexamination a Case File, he positions himself as a cinematic sleuth with puppy dog eagerness, attempting to place each failure in one of the following categories: Failure, Fiasco, or Secret Success. (Or in once case, “a semisecret fiascopiece.”) Thankfully, particularly with such a potentially ripe subject, Rabin can be legitimately funny without being overtly snarky, as in his attempt to explain the way-out acting turns in the final chapter’s of acting great Marlon Brando’s onscreen career: “…sometime in the mid-70’s, Marlon Brando began taking marching orders from The Great Gazoo, the tiny effeminate green alien only Fred Flinstone could see.”

The book’s subtitle is “One man’s Journey Deep Into the Heart of Cinematic Failure”, allowing the author to utilize his cinematic detection talents to equally scrutinize such diverse degrees of badness as Inexplicable Directorial Lead Ballons ( Robert Altmam’s O.C. And Stiggs, Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown, Preston Sturges’ The Great Moment, and Paul Mazursky’s Scenes From a Mall), Truly Execrable Efforts (Freddy Got Fingered, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, and The Love Guru), or more Fascinating Failures ( the 1962 and 1997 versions of Lolita, The Rocketeer, or the truly gonzo Tough Guys Don’t Dance).

Rabin can indeed be cutting (on Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band: “ But Stigwood’s film reduces the Beatles diverse, literate humor to history’s dumbest variety-show skit. …It ransacks vaudeville and silent film for its hokey jokes, grossly exaggerated performances, and groaning stupidity, but adds disco flourishes and special effects that wouldn’t look out of place in a Rudy Ray Moore movie.”), but his lack of film snobbery and general authorial high spirits make it all palatable, as do the constant stream of descriptive bon mots and eye-winking one-liners. (The book’s appendix, a scene by scene dissection of Waterworld, is something of a comic tour de force.)

Critic and film historian David Thompson once called Heaven’s Gate “a wounded monster”, and Rabin is bright and blithe enough to place it and it’s fellow monstrosities into a cage with plenty of water and food, and, yup, popcorn. After all, the scary monsters of commercial cinema ought to be watched and enjoyed as much as the holy beasts that we spend so much time endlessly analyzing, handing out awards to, or compiling all-time lists about. My Year of Flops, may not be a highly illuminating, sturdily academic study probing directly into the heart of film flop darkness, but it is an exceptionally witty read and an undeniably cool concept.