Martini Shot on Oscar Hopefuls

(Holding Curtis Hanson's Oscar for LA Confidential)

I was talking to a friend about this year's Oscar Globular hopefuls. I hate being critical. I loathe critiques of my own work. Well loathe is too extreme. I usually don't read them. Unless I like them. Then I read them over and over .. and over. "Hey, listen to this," I'll usually say. And make others listen. I guess that's a testament to how few good reviews I get. Anyways, my friend said "You should write a blog about your take on the Oscar contenders." Why? Just another annoying voice in the netverse? I'm a filmmaker myself - I've written and/or directed 8 flicks - I want to work again. Why bite the hand that feeds me? Oh, it hasn't fed me lately? There's a strike on? Oh, okay, I'll take out time from helping my 4 year old play on Sesame street (.com) to jot down some thoughts.

That being said. Can we talk?

"Into the Wild." Wasn't wild about it. Didn't care for the lead character. The actor was good, I love Sean Penn's pov mostly, but I just didn't like this guy's character. Or his story. He was kind of annoying. Kind of a jerk to his family - and he goes off the deep end for no reason I could really gather - his parents yelled at each other. Oooh. Hide the kids. It's not like Perry's father beating the crap out of him in "In Cold Blood" or his mom having sex with men while he was on the next bed. I mean.. c'mon. Then the kid trecks cross the country and winds up in a trailer in Alaska - just yards from where a bridge that crossed the raging river he was stuck behind.. where he would have found civilization. I'm sure he was a great brother and a wonderful son. I'd hate for my son to run off to Alaska without saying goodbye. But it reminded me of a George Carlin riff he did about people swimming in the East River, drinking pollution when he grew up. "Some people aren't supposed to survive childhood." Maybe this story will convince someone else to give their parents a break. Or phone home more often. Or carry a cell phone. Or a map? He came to an apotheosis, a realization about the meaning of life when he died - but I'd come to the same realization two hours earlier; don't go to Alaska without a hat.

"No Country For Old Men." This should have been called "There will be blood in this country where old men are" I loved this movie. Up until the last reel. Maybe two reels. Suddenly the film goes.. What? Did someone load up the wrong reel? Then I read that the Fabulous Cohens chose the book to adapt because the third act was so wacky. I'm paraphrasing but it was "we loved that this key moment happened off screen." C'mon. Our lead character has his epiphany.. off screen? Where's Billy Wilder when we need him? Okay, that's novel, but that's as in - "that belongs in a novel." We're in a movie theater. Don't make us think about the structure of this story while you're screwing up a story. Then.. the inexplicable - at least to this seasoned viewer - ending. I won't go into details. Why should I? Tommy Lee Jones telling us about a dream he had. "Then my Pa rode by me on his horse, didn't say nothing. Nope. Just went on down the road.." (sorry I'm paraphrasing again) Felt like I was watching an episode of Rifleman. The effervescent Tess Harper, looking radiant, wasted, we know she's been his wife for the past two hours and they decide to introduce her to us now? She sits across and listens to him opine about his dream. Speaking of wasted - Woody, phone home. What was billed as - or at least story wise - a great matchup between two bad guys.. was .. um.. anticlimactic? Hmm. "Should I answer the ringing telephone or shoot this hombre's head off? Let me flip a coin." It really annoyed me, but then after reading other blogs, I know I'm not the only one. So if it wins, audiences around the globe can be annoyed as well.

"There Will Be Blood." Ok. I got two problems with this movie. One is John Huston's ghost. The other is the ghost of Ghoulardi. That's an inside joke, and if you don't know who Ghoulardi is, look 'er up. But why the brilliant DDLewis decided to do a (spot on mind you) imitation of the great John Huston, is beyond me. It's like DeNiro doing young Brando in Godfather II - brilliant - the voice, the stature, everything - DDL is doing a young John Huston who grows up to be Hollis Mulray in Chinatown. It's eerie to hear Huston in a film - but there you have it. PT Anderson has gone on record that he watched "Treasure of Sierra Madre" a bunch to imitate it - and the bug eyes scene where DDL loses his temper with his brother - some of these scenes were great homages to John Huston's film. (Yes, I know it was Walter who starred in the film - brilliantly so, the leading man taking off his hairpiece and his fake teeth for an Oscar worthy part) but what irks me about this film is the story. Did I feel satisfied with it? Why? Well, for starters there's no third act. Again. We're in the Greystone mansion where Doheny was murdered by his son. Why isn't DDLewis murdered by his son? The scene is set for it - but it doesn't happen. Something else happens. And I for one, was laughing throughout. Over the top? Over the bowling lanes for my money. But what do I know? The other beef I have is the music - it was great - but as I sat there looking at these long shots of barren Texas countryside, I was thinking "this music is making me tense, but there's absolutely nothing happening in this frame. Or in the story? So why the mock tension?" Also - one final dart - lots of behavior (kissing of his son - its understandable, I kiss mine - but this character?) It felt like it was something out of the 1990's and not the 1890's. Just.. didn't.. buy.. it. Great filmmaker. Great actors. Not so great story.

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" I was looking forward to this - Harwood's script, Kaminski's the DP - both oscar worthy folks. And then Julian Schnabel shows up - at our screening no less - to talk about his contributions to the film. Which, from I can tell so far, he didn't look at Harwood's script (which is the person who came up with the POV idea) or he shot the film himself.. Janusz was on the sidelines listening to the great painter paint. Somebody give me a Tums. And the film at the end is dedicated to Schnabel's dad - that's lovely - except it's not Schnabel's story, it's not his film - and I can't help but feel like this great story has been inundated by some over eager ego. "Let go of my ego." That's all this director needs, more accolades as to the genius he imagines himself to be. I've yet to hear anyone on the streets of LA who doesn't feel the same about the guy. I was glad to see him speak at my screening - I thought I might be wrong about him. I asked him it was like to work with Janusz. He said, and I quote, "I called him on the phone. He came to my hotel." Ok. How about a compliment in someone else's direction? And how convenient is it that every woman in this film is a babe? Even Fellini, when surrounding himself with beautiful women, found a way to highlight real people. Not too many real people in this film. And why should we care about him? Because he had a stroke. Guy has a chance to redeem himself in front of his wife.. but doesn't. Eh. But the visuals are stunning. Janusz could shoot the laundry and make it look fabulous.

POST SCRIPT: Saw Herr Schnabel speak about his film at the DGA awards. His producer's introduction was so over the top, that for a moment I thought "Maybe JS really isn't such a bad guy - just misunderstood." Then he got up to accept his nomination - made a comment about Kathleen Kennedy sending him the script and some woman in the audience said something. He froze. He glared at her. "You want to finish my speech? Here, you finish it." and then acted like he was going to walk off. Furious. The music cued him off. Then he stopped. He must have realized how petty he was being.

I immediately thought to myself "the woman has turrets. This is a Larry David episode." And then it all came back to me.. The producer said it was the Director's idea to have the first 38 minutes of the film from the victim's pov. How brilliant! Only if that's true, then Ron Harwood is a liar -(WGA article) he says that was in the script. It was his idea to make it from the writer's POV. The script that was sent to Schnabel by the producer Ms. Kennedy. The finished product Schnabel claimed, in a DGA forum no less, that the script "bore little resemblance" to the finished product.

Wow. Then in the trades (Hollywood rep 1-23-08 - "Schnable in Rome)" at what he regarded was a snub of his film for not being nominated for a Best Picture award "Of course, I think it's the Best Picture." News flash: A writer wrote this story. A novelist in fact. Then an award winning WGA screenwriter. Two gentlemen who created this story that Il Regisata has never thanked in any speech I've heard or seen. Even if its oversight, it appears to be deliberate neglect to mention others as being part of the success of the film. Then the dedications at the end of the film - to the Director's parents. What about the original writer's family? Whose story is this? Who do we care about in this story? It's not the Director. It's the author's.

And then the audacity! the horror! Sean Young dares to interrupt his nomination acceptance speech!! The one where the Director neglects to thank the two key people who wrote this film.. Sean Young was ejected, but when she said "Get on with it," she might as well have said "Don't forget to thank the writer for this film." It's a lovely film, but I feel like someone's trying to sell that fact that they invented muslin, paint, and how to put it onto the canvas. Or as I often quote an old Hollywood maxim: "I'll see you on the way up, and I'll see you on the way down."

American Gangster - Haven't seen it yet. Seen the trailer. Feel like I've seen the movie.

3:10 to Yuma. Still can't get Russell Crowe throwing a phone at a bellhop out of my head. Hard to find sympathy for him - although the filmmakers seem to think its his story. Hence why we leave our hero in the dirt, and follow the bad guy onto the train. Awful third act. It's all about the hat.

In the Valley of Elah this is one film I didn't see but I read. (being on strike gives you time to actually read what the Guild sends you.) I like Paul Haggis. A son is murdered after coming home from Iraq, his pop tries to find out who and why and how. He finds out his son was involved in creepy stuff while in Iraq. We're about to have a whole nation full of veterans who've been tortured by this inane war. I live close enough to the VA hospital to viscerally feel how awful going to Vietnam must have been - 70% of all homeless people in the country - it's estimated - are Vietnam vets. Get ready for a lot of homeless veterans. I like the script - well written - but I read a more powerful story about an Iraqi vet in the LA Times. He was the guy called the "Marlboro Marine" because of the LA Times photo of him smoking a butt. He came home, his life shattered. But he said one thing that stayed with him - as he killed Iraqis there was this moment when their lives flashed through his mind. For an instant he was connected to them - and could see their lives as he killed them. That's what's haunting him. Wow. Imagine if they taught you that in school - if you take someone's life it will smack you in the face and haunt you with their ghosts. That's interesting to me. That's a film I haven't seen. However, Paul gets my vote for best script, because well, he's a good writer.

Lars and the Real Girl He's great. She's not. Okay, I have to agree with the Geezers of youtube when I wished there was some drama in this film. Or sex. Or something. When I saw that same story the writer of this film did, on HBO's show "Real Sex", about this company making Real Girls or whatever they're called... During the "Real Sex" episode on HBO they showed a writer who was living in a cabin with his mannequin - and smirking about sex with her - I thought "that's a weird film." And dang it all, someone beat me to the punch - but if you put ten writers in the same room and gave them the same concept.. I don't know - it should have been something more - funnier. Still, filmmaker did a good job - just not a great one.

Juno. I heard this awful review on the radio - Wall Street Jrnl? - and they played a clip from the movie claiming it was annoying. It was the scene where she goes to the prospective adopters with her dad - and while listening to the clip, I had to agree. It sounded like an annoying film. But since then, I've revisited the trailer, had a laugh, so I finally saw it. The film surprised me in every way - the lead actress - brilliant. Bravura performance. I liked the dialog, the setups, the changes, the first, second and third act. I didn't know what would happen. It took me back to my teen years, and my own traumas, which I'll revisit through my writing someday.. I hope. But it's a great film. Also gets a nod for best script and the direction as well. Good work all around. Kudos to Diablo.

My opinion of the best film this year? Ratattouille. I can't spell it. I can eat it. I've seen it a dozen times. My kids want to be Remy and Emile. Not easy to take a rat and make him your hero - make him a chef to boot, and create 3 dimensional characters. When I wrote for Epicurean Rendezvous a great chef once told me "Every great chef has the taste of his mother's cooking in his mouth." And the moment when Anton Ego tastes Remy's dish - and his mind races back to his childhood - I had tears in my eyes.. I so understood that moment, how brilliant it was. And it was the only film this year that made me wish I'd written that scene.. If you can get a four and two year old (my daughter and son) to want to play with and be better rats.. - then that's what Rocky did to me when I first saw it, what Chinatown did to me before I grew up to go to film school and then got to work for Robert Towne, what the Godfather did to me before I grew up and got to meet the incomparable Francis Coppola. These guys can tell a story. It's a shame that so many filmmakers these days are skating when it comes to giving us a beginning, middle and end, even if it's told completely out of order. Gimme Wilder anytime.

That's a wrap.

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