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by Nikki Tranter

20 Feb 2008

Day 2 of our Oscar Countdown and we’re looking at some of the best books out there to get you in the mood for the big day.

Made for Each Other: Fashion and the Academy Awards by Bronwyn Cosgrave
Bloomsbury, December 2006

A heavily research history of fashion at the Academy Awards—it’s a splendid idea, and one that is executed beautifully by Vogue contributor Bronwyn Cosgrave. This book not only celebrates memorable dresses, like Cher’s star-shaped Bob Mackie and Diane Keaton’s suit dresses, but looks at how integral fashion is to the ceremony. Women nominees learned early on that a good frock meant extra copy and so the night was used as stepping stone as well as a celebration. Cosgrave takes us through the fashion partnerships that have come to define Oscar glamour—Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy, Grace Kelly and Edith Head, Liza Minelli and Halston to name a few.

Oscar Season by Mary McNamara
Simon and Schuster, January 2008

Perfectly times, this Jackie Collins-esque look behind the Oscar stage is full of murder and intrigue! Clearly, it’s satirical, but you just know nuggets of truth are hidden throughout. The plot: a top PR chick must join forces with an aging superstar to find the killer (or killers) behind a series of shocking and Oscar-related murders. Despite it’s apparent “clunkiness”, EntertainmentWeekly gave it a B.

The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards by Steve Pond
Faber and Faber, December 2005

If it’s Oscar gossip you want, look no further. Premiere writer Steve Pond takes us on an all access tour of Academy Awards ceremonies over many decades. The result is a funny, smart look behind the big gold curtain. Pond takes a thorough look into 10 specific ceremonies from 1994 to 2004 and reveals the wheeling and dealing we never see, and probably wouldn’t understand even if we did. Pond looks at the best Oscar moments and some of the most embarrassing and lets us know what happened afterwards.

The Academy Awards: The Complete Unofficial History by Gail Kinn and Jim Piazza
Black Dog and Leventhal, May 2006

Exactly as you would imagine, this book is look back at Oscar the year he turned 78. All rather standard—news and gossip, style and speeches, memories of shining moments and big stumbles. This one is up there with the best Oscar books because its photos are superb, big and glossy, and it’s got some great quotes from Oscar’s best speeches in there, too.

A Visual History of African American Academy Award Nominees 2008 Calendar by Rene Carson
This is a great idea—a beautifully designed catalogue celebrating African American Oscar nominees past and present. I found this for sale at Amazon where you can look at little thumbnails of the glossy pics inside of Cicely Tyson in Sounder, Alfre Woodard in Cross Creek, Ethel Waters in Pinky and heaps of others. Each month also features trivia and facts about the pictured films. It’s a cool idea for an Oscar gift.

by Bill Gibron

20 Feb 2008

It’s bandwagon jumping time, and since Hollywood is about ready to hand out its own brand of bewildering backslapping, the 19-month-old SE&L figures it too can champion its own choices for award winners. Oscar might have the hoopla, the bags of swag, and all that staggering star power, but what the newly christened SEALS have is something the Academy can never boast – artistic integrity. Granted, the gray hairs in the group sometimes get it right – can’t argue with all their choices, Crash aside – and it’s possible that these new prizes will clash with conventional thinking. But when it comes right down to it, if Blockbuster Video, MTV, and The National Rolling (Down a Hill) Association can declare their preferences for the year’s trophy-deserving best, why can’t we?

That being said, we have to set up some guidelines. First and foremost, as joking Johnny-Come-Latelys, we will avoid the already nominated Academy entries. If it has already been pointed out by Oscar, we will let the Gold One have his glory and simply move on. After all, nothing smacks more of Tinsel Town tonsils to tushy than agreeing on who they feel deserves Best of Year recognition. Secondly, we will try to mine the ENTIRE previous 12 months in film. We won’t skip over efforts from January or March just because most of the cachet pictures wind up playing between November and December. And finally, this isn’t a competition. Other choices may be mentioned, but the SEALS don’t play the nomination game. Either you’re a winner, or you’re not.

So, without further ado, lame jokes from a PC host, or an interpretive dance number based around the choices for Best Song, here are the 2008 SEALS:

Best Film – Gone Baby Gone
Clint Eastwood was called some kind of GOD for turning Dennis Lehane’s novel Mystic River into a Method over-acting melodrama. In a perfect world, Ben Affleck’s take on another of the author’s South Boston whodunits would have been equally praised. Instead, Oscar more or less forgot about it. Too bad, really. This is the kind of engrossing, energetic cinematic tour de force from both sides of the camera that restores your faith in film. Long after the Coens and PT Anderson have gathered up their aesthetic and gone home, this will be the movie audiences return to again and again. In a year of great works, this is definitely the best.

Best Director – David Fincher (Zodiac)
It’s hard enough to capture the look of the ‘70s, let alone the predominant post-peace generation malaise. Now add in the biggest unsolved murder spree in California history, and the man who made his name with the classic serial killer saga Se7en, and you’ve got several impossible cinematic mountains to climb. Drawing on his own memories of the era, Fincher maneuvered all of these potential pitfalls flawlessly. This is Helter Skelter without the Mansion Family mania, a police procedural that dares to expose the flaws in a pre-technology system. Like a symphony in three parts, this director conducted the most memorable movie going experience of the year.

Best Actor – Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild)
It’s hard to play a real life individual, let alone someone with the wide-eyed idealism and neophyte naiveté of Christopher McCandless. Adding to the issue was the depressing manner in which this true story ends. Yet Hirsch, seen mostly in disposable comedies and off-title dramas, really responded to Sean Penn’s pointed writing and directing, creating a believable vagabond whose destiny seems painted in purely fatalistic colors. We root for this lonely and lost young man, but recognize how untenable his attempt really is. It makes Hirsch’s work all the more impressive.

Best Actress – Jodie Foster (The Brave One)
Thanks to a mostly illiterate critical community, Neil Jordan’s brilliant deconstruction of big city security was tagged a ‘female Death Wish. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and Foster’s electrifying performance proves that once and for all. This is the story of ethics pushed to the edge, of normal people taking the ‘concept’ of law into their own hands. While metered out unfairly, and with little consideration for the sacredness of the social order, we watch one woman melt down and rise up, phoenix like, packing heat and ready to reclaim her sanity. It marks another courageous, brilliant turn for the two time Oscar winner.

Best Supporting Actor – Paul Rudd (Knocked Up)
It’s hard to be the anchor when all around you is going gonzo, but Rudd, reserved and resplendent as the stereotypical post modern hen pecked hubby, was absolutely marvelous as Apatow’s amiable marital commentator. From the classic reaction to his wife’s constipation, to the moment his mushroomed brain discovers the variety of chairs in a Vegas suite, he stole scene after scene from a noted moment thief like star Seth Rogen. In the old days, before leading roles leapt over one category to secure a statue, this would be the celebrated performance. Sadly, it sits, unrecognized.

Best Supporting Actress – Michelle Yeoh (Sunshine)
Considering the massive scope of his movie (this is a sci-fi film about saving an entire GALAXY), Danny Boyle had his work cut out for him when it came to making the speculative stakes more personal. Luckily, he had a magnificent cast, including this Chinese icon as the starship’s resident botanist. If a single moment can sell a performance, it’s the instant that Yeoh recognizes that all the food in the interstellar garden has been destroyed. Her face, a combination of shock and sadness, literally breaks your heart. If cameo-sized stunts can earn Oscar nods (and gold), this more substantive turn should as well.

Best Script – Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz)
Describing what this amazing action spoof does best is very difficult - deconstruct the genre, or eviscerate the stiff upper lip stereotype of the British people. More than just a collection of jokes, this is the kind of satire where levels of unexpected wit arrive in the most unusual and arcane of places. From the clipped clichés of the opening to the all out splatter fest at the end, Wright and Pegg prove they’re the heir apparent to Python level lunacy. And then make cracking good films in the process.

Best Documentary – Lake of Fire
Abortion is the ultimate non-debatable issue. No side is absolutely perfect and no position is wholly evil. While it was released in Canada in 2006, the film didn’t appear in American markets until October, 2007, making its unflinching look at the issue eligible for consideration. Always confrontational and never weak willed, Tony Kaye’s take on this material is honest, forthright, and resolute. This is not an attempt to make heroes and villains of those passionate about the topic. Instead, Lake looks at the fight as part of a broader social phenomenon, and a decidedly political one as well.

Best Animated Film – Beowulf
Forget cute cooking rats. Ignore the “Down with the Shah” darkness of one young gal’s life in Iran. And who really cares about surfing penguins. This is the real animated feat of 2007, a movie rich in atmosphere, bravado, and naked male fisticuffs. Robert Zemeckis managed to take the wheezy Nordic poem and transform it into a terrific visual feast, complete with a stellar turn by Crispin Glover as the big bad monster Grendel. For those lucky enough to see it in 3D, the amazing amount of detail in the film is more than eye-popping. Add in the increasingly realistic motion capture and you’ve got a great CGI achievement.

Best Foreign Film – The Orphanage
As with the documentary a few years back, the Academy is having to answer a lot of questions as to why certain films were not eligible for Oscar consideration. Whatever lame excuses they give, there will be none that justify the exclusion of this Gilliam-esque masterwork. Sure, it’s got a couple of plot holes, and director Juan Antonio Bayona borrows more than a little from his producer/pal Guillermo Del Toro. But in a medium desperate for a good old fashioned ghost story, this amazing movie delivers in big fat spooky handfuls. Spain submitted it. The AMPAS snubbed it. Therefore, it’s destined to be a classic.

Best Guilty Pleasure – Halloween 2007
Boy, was everyone - critics and fright fans alike - totally unfair to this revisionist remake. Partly out of respect for what John Carpenter did 30 years ago with his Hitchcock homage, but also out of an utter anti-horror bias, writer/director Rob Zombie took it on the chin and came out smarting (if only slightly - the film was a BO hit). In a year that saw another fine Hostel installment, Saw go for number four, and various upstarts try to re-envision the various monster legacies, this was the real movie macabre. It did everything right, including reconfiguring the focus away from Haddenfield and its populace, and still people panned it. Oh well, their loss.

by PopMatters Staff

20 Feb 2008

Mission of Burma
Max Ernst [MP3]
     

Weatherbox (live) [MP3]
     

Dub Trio
Bay vs. Leonard [MP3]
     

Rings
Mom Dance [MP3]
     

Wombats
Kill the Director [MP3]
     

The Big Sleep
Bad Blood [MP3]
     

by Jason Gross

20 Feb 2008

While I was doing an interview with Kevin Ayers (coming soon to Perfect Sound Forever), something occurred to me.  Ayers is a very nice guy who was pleasant to speak to but clearly not comfortable answering questions about his work and his life.  There were short answers, long pauses and awkward silences- I found myself going through all my questions in half the time I thought that I’d need.  I wondered if a problem like this was one reason that a great artist like Ayers unwittingly stays a cult figure.

So does that mean if a performer gives good interviews, they’ll make it in the biz?  Of course not but that’s just part of playing the music game- it helps by getting recognition by having some press.  Sometimes that means answering the same questions or just stupid questions but even if a performer can fake some enthusiasm, that can go a long way.

The same thought also crossed my mind with two other interviews.  In 2000, I interviewed Butch Hancock.  The man’s a brilliant songwriter (just ask Joe Ely or Jimmie Dale Gilmore) but he was clearly uncomfortable talking about his work.  It seemed to me that he probably didn’t do many interviews.  I also got the impression that he didn’t care- it wasn’t that he wasn’t a snob but it just wasn’t something that he was concerned with.  During the interview, his main concern was spiritual matters, which he didn’t think he could accurately express in an article about his career.  Hancock is far from being a careerist- he lives in a ghost town in West Texas and only puts out albums once in a while and doesn’t play out often (though he signed on with a local travel company to accompany rafting adventurers).  He’s happy that way so why gainsay that?  If you’re a fan of his though (like me), you might find yourself caring more about him becoming more well known that Hancock himself does.

Then there was a 1991 interview with composer Conlon Nancarrow.  Host/composer Charles Amirkhanian is cheery and has a sympathetic ear but I felt for him as it seemed that he was pulling teeth at times to get answers out of Nancarrow, who usually gave short, casual answers to most of the questions.  The fact that Nancarrow spent decades in Mexico City rather than a major city in the U.S. or Europe (self-exiled because of his Communist beliefs) or that he composed many pieces for an unusual instrument (player piano) probably didn’t help him easily make it into the modern classical pantheon alongside Reich and Glass though CN did make the good career move of expiring (sorry, bad joke).  Though he did finally receive some much deserved recognition in the late 70’s and early 80’s (thanks in part to Amirkhanian who released his works), his compositions nowadays aren’t heard enough in the repertoire of modern classical works.

In his mid-70’s at the time and having suffered breathing problems for decades (he died about five years later), Nancarrow also sounded uncomfortable with his interview though it was still fascinating to hear his thoughts about his work.  Like Hancock, he didn’t sound particularly concerned. One of his biographers (and a great composer and writer too) was Kyle Gann, who also explains this about Nancarrow:

“Conlon was never very chatty in his life. But in January 1990 he had a stroke, and he was never the same after that. I didn’t see him again until 1994, by which time he had recovered somewhat, but it sounds like he was still having trouble during the interview you mention.”

I’m sure that Nancarrow cared deeply about his work but his lack of savvy about presenting it or his persona didn’t help him sustain access to a larger audience.  Maybe, like Hancock, he didn’t care about that aspect of work his work but then again, that may be of more concern to his boosters than it was to the artist himself.

by Bill Gibron

19 Feb 2008

Picking who will win the Oscars each year is like taking a trip directly into a fool’s paradise. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on who will win, the wacky members of AMPAS step in and screw everything up all over again. They’ve been known to make a mistake or two, and their decisions rarely have much to do with art or classicism. Still, if you’ve watched the talent train wreck for long enough, you learn a few lessons about forecasting the unfathomable. So while SE&L prepares its own annual Academy tie-in, here’s our shot are determining who walks away with gold come Sunday. We won’t confess if we get it wrong, but we sure will gloat if we get it right. Keeping score is optional. Let’s begin with:

Best Motion Picture of the Year
Atonement (Focus Features) A Working Title Production: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Paul Webster, Producers
Juno (Fox Searchlight) A Dancing Elk Pictures, LLC Production: Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick and Russell Smith, Producers
Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.) A Clayton Productions, LLC Production: Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox and Kerry Orent, Producers
No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) A Scott Rudin/Mike Zoss Production: Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax) A JoAnne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company Production: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Lupi, Producers

What Will Win: Atonement
What Should Win: No Country for Old Men
This is the stretch, the pick that goes against the established thinking’s grain and suggests that Oscar has learned nothing over its last 20 years. Smacking of a Crash/Brokeback Mountain - Shakespeare in Love/Saving Private Ryan fiascos, this could very well be the old guards response to the Coen’s dark, desperate vision. Remember, the voting Academy is made up of aging ex-nominees, and the mock Merchant/Ivory quality of this British period piece fits right into their cinematic comfort zone.


Performance By an Actor in a Leading Role
George Clooney in Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.)
Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah (Warner Independent)
Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises (Focus Features)

Who Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Who Should Win: Johnny Depp
Call it a case of wishful thinking, but maybe, just maybe, Oscar will overlook Day-Lewis’ complete domination of the year end Best of’s (and abundant award show anointing) and chose the actor who actually did the best job of bringing his character to life. There’s no doubt that Daniel Plainview is a piece of work, but Depp took a huge chance by playing the overdone bravado of the Broadway legend as a small, sinister shell. It remains the most daring turn by any actor in 2007.


Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner Bros.)
Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War (Universal)
Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment)
Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.)

Who Will Win: Hal Holbrook
Who Should Win: Javier Bardem
Just like the Supporting Actress category, the Academy has set up this contest to be about age, experience, and career accomplishment. Holbrook holds all the cards, especially when you consider that he’s just entered his 80s and is still going somewhat strong. Bardem may be the presumptive favorite (winning every other award imaginable will do that to one’s chances) but don’t be surprised if Monday’s headlines reflect a ‘happy trails’ vs. ‘what’s happening’ mentality.


Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Universal)
Julie Christie in Away from Her (Lionsgate)
Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (Picturehouse)
Laura Linney in The Savages (Fox Searchlight)
Ellen Page in Juno (Fox Searchlight)

Who Will Win: Ellen Page
Who Should Win: No One
The choices here are all suspect at best. Of the five, only one has any real buzz, and the backlash has already started to eat into Juno’s junk culture likeability. Page will probably pull it off, proving that previous statues to Helen Hunt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Julia Roberts haven’t shamed the frequently misguided voters back to their senses. As for the lack of a “should”, see tomorrow’s SE&L awards for some guidance.


Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There (The Weinstein Company)
Ruby Dee in American Gangster (Universal)
Saoirse Ronan in Atonement (Focus Features)
Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone (Miramax)
Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.)

Who Will Win: Ruby Dee
Who Should Win: Cate Blanchett
Dee’s blink and you’ll miss it turn paired up with Gangster’s lack of Oscar love could confuse this category even more than it already is, but long term talent plus tragedy (Ossie Davis died three years ago this month) usually means a little gold statue. And let’s not forget the overriding issue of race. One classic African American face up against a group of youthful Caucasians spells trouble for everyone else’s chances. If it was a question of real merit, Blanchett blows everyone else away.


Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Persepolis (Sony Pictures Classics): Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
Ratatouille (Walt Disney): Brad Bird
Surf’s Up (Sony Pictures Releasing): Ash Brannon and Chris Buck

What Will Win: Persepolis
What Should Win: Ratatouille
With the political poison of Iraq still thick in the air, anything dealing with the Middle East is bound to get undue attention. This doesn’t mean Persepolis is undeserving, just that it speaks directly to the Academy’s apologist mentality. And since Pixar has picked up a few of these babies along the way, the fascination French film has a very good chance of walking away with the win. The dudes from Surf’s Up should save some money and just stay home.


Achievement in Directing
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Julian Schnabel
Juno (Fox Searchlight), Jason Reitman
Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.), Tony Gilroy
No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Paul Thomas Anderson

Who Will Win: Joel and Ethan Coen
Who Should Win: Paul Thomas Anderson
Here’s the deal - if Atonement takes home the top prize, it will be because voters figured this award was enough for the sibling auteurs. They’ve got the DGA, the critic’s polls, and the forward momentum, so all seems ripe for a return to glory. But what Paul Thomas Anderson did was so brave, so beyond his typical ‘80s artifice as deconstruction that it’s hard to believe he actually made the movie. Just for that feat alone, he deserves the nod.


Achievement in Cinematography
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner Bros.): Roger Deakins
Atonement (Focus Features): Seamus McGarvey
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Miramax/Pathé Renn): Janusz Kaminski
No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Roger Deakins
There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Robert Elswit

Who Will Win: Roger Deakins - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Who Should Win: Robert Elswit - There Will Be Blood
Elswit has the Cinematographer’s Society Award, while Deakins has the pretty pictures. Neither has one before, but the latter has the best chance, if only because he’s nominated twice. If he splits the vote, Blood will win. But Oscar is desperate to find a way of rewarding Andrew Dominik’s overlong character study, so don’t be phased if Deakins bucks the trend and takes home a trophy for bringing the Wild West back to beautiful life. 


Best Documentary Feature
No End in Sight (Magnolia Pictures) A Representational Pictures Production: Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience (The Documentary Group) A Documentary Group Production: Richard E. Robbins
SiCKO (Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company) A Dog Eat Dog Films Production: Michael Moore and Meghan O’Hara
Taxi to the Dark Side (THINKFilm) An X-Ray Production: Alex Gibney and Eva Orner
War/Dance (THINKFilm) A Shine Global and Fine Films Production: Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine

What Will Win: No End in Sight
What Should Win: SiCKO
Bush bashing has become a tradition at the Academy Awards, like Cher wearing bad Bob Mackie and facelift scars. While Michael Moore (previous President pariah) made the most important film of the year, No End is a playbook of bad policy decisions by the sitting Commander in Chief. It’s a wonderful film, and devastating in its message, so clearly it takes the night. But the wounded health care system - and those looking to take it down - could really use an Oscar boost.


Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Beaufort Israel
The Counterfeiters Austria
Katyn Poland
Mongol Kazakhstan
12 Russia
What Will Win: Who Knows
What Should Win: Who Cares
Under the arcane system applied by the Academy, the best foreign films of the year didn’t even make it into the running. Therefore, we withhold a prediction out of protest.


Best Adapted Screenplay
Atonement (Focus Features), Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
Away from Her (Lionsgate), Written by Sarah Polley
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
Who Will Win: No Country for Old Men
Who Should Win: No Country for Old Men
In keeping with our Atonement trajectory, the brothers will have to be happy with a double dose of Academy appreciation come the end of the evening. Taking home statues for directing and script will just have to suffice. Granted, they are without a doubt the best writers for film currently working, and their screenplays are always good for a quotable line or 20. And since they already own a similar accolade for Fargo, this will be further proof of their way with words.


Best Original Screenplay
Juno (Fox Searchlight), Written by Diablo Cody
Lars and the Real Girl (MGM), Written by Nancy Oliver
Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.), Written by Tony Gilroy
Ratatouille (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Brad Bird; Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird
The Savages (Fox Searchlight), Written by Tamara Jenkins
Who Will Win: Diablo Cody
Who Should Win: Brad Bird
Anyone who knows the story behind the Pixar hit would instantly jump to Brad Bird and company’s defense. Far beyond Cody’s stripper to scribe sentiment, the mind behind The Incredibles raised what was, in essence, a dead project from the cinematic grave. Taking the incomplete material left behind, he refashioned the film into one of 2007’s best. Cody will always be the Callie Khouri of this year’s model - Bird is the tested timeless talent.

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