Friday, April 6, 2012

Rachel Maddow's "Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power"

Rachel Maddow has become the adored authority of the American left. With her charm, trademark black-rimmed glasses, infectious laugh, and other noted attributes, Maddow is our big sister who joshes us, and will serve up a killer cocktail, along with a brilliant zinger. Since the start of her eponymous talk show on MSNBC during the 2008 election season, she has combined a mischievous sense of humor, dry wit and exhaustive research to become a cable news host very different from those either on her network or those on the right from FoxNews.

AS Jon Stewart noted when he interviewed Maddow recently, it seems that she has written a serious book  and invested a serious amount of research. She responded in passing, "I treated it as a second job." In Stewart's droll way, he said, "Well, you are making all of us look bad." When you look at the books from other talk-show hosts, the title usually resembles: "Why and How ____ (One political party) is Destroying America" or any of the vitriolic, hyperbolic titles of Ann Coulter ("Godless," "Treason," "Slander," "If Democrats Had Any Brains..."-- truly, titles that will provoke constructive and interesting debate). Bill O'Reilly's recent book on the assassination of Lincoln has been ridiculed by historians who have pointed out numerous factual errors (eg O'Reilly frequently refers to Lincoln pondering his decisions in the Oval Office, except the Oval Office did not exist during Lincoln's presidency). The books of Sean Hannity, Coulter, or Keith Olbermann on the left do not make arguments, they simply yell, scream and argue. These polemical publications do nothing but sell copies, provoking no genuine discussion or thought. Maddow, however, constructs an argument based on evidence, logic, and reason, something that surprised Janet Maslin in her rave review in "The New York Times."

In her new book, "Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power," Maddow employs a visual metaphor of American military policy set adrift in the ocean of twenty-first century foreign policy. The ship has set sail with no control, and, in her ominous tone, it sounds as if it is heading straight for an iceberg. The narrative begins in the age of Vietnam and how Johnson sought to deploy troops without calling up the National Guard or Reserves, because that would be too politically dangerous to the White House. (This was how G.W. Bush avoided any conflict during the war.) When Vietnam was beginning to wind down after 1973, Congress realized that they had been duped and their power, clearly laid out in the Constitution, had been sidestepped. The framers of the Constitution were clear in their desire to have war declared by the legislative body, not by the executive branch. A President, who could solely declare war, would inevitably become a tyrant, distracting from domestic issues in order to unite his citizens with a common, foreign enemy. By having Congress be responsible for declarations of war, this heady responsibility would be required to go through endless debate and be in the hands of many, rather than one. The clandestine operations that the US employed in the Cold War Era sought to avoid the political calamity of public debate. Mossadegh was brought down with the aid of the CIA in 1953. The Guatemalan president was deposed in 1954. Patrice Lumumba was killed in 1961, after Belgian and CIA operative funneled cash to his enemies. Che was assassinated in 1967. Congress did not authorize, nor even debate, a single one of these occurrences.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution Act sought to right a ship that had gone off course (to continue the usage of the naval metaphor). Under this act, the President must notify Congress within forty-eight hours of the deployment of military troops.  These forces cannot remain for more than sixty days, without Congress authorization or a declaration of war. Nixon and his Cabinet was apoplectic at such a law, which they believed mocked and humiliated the executive branch. Gerald Ford's cabinet, which housed later notables, such as Cheney and Rumsfeld, were further incensed by such Congressional chutzpah. However, this act simply reiterated what was stated in the Constitution. No serious challenge could truly be posed to this law and never was.

Things began to change during the Reagan administration. Reagan comes under the most sustained attack in Maddow's book. The Iran-Contra affair nearly brought the Administration to doom, and those of us on the left have always said that the charges laid at Reagan's feet were far more impeachable than lies about engaging in sexual congress with a consenting adult. Reagan's melodramatic imagination saw the world drawn along a Manichean division of good and evil. The evil Soviets were infiltrating anywhere and everywhere, especially in latin America. The honor-clad Americans with our liberty and freedom were the only ones who could defeat such nefarious enemies. What Reagan failed to see was the often illegal and morally suspicious tactics he utilized in order to weaken the Soviets (who at this point were weakened by years of non-productivity and failing infrastructure). Although Reagan came into office despising the Iranian regime for holding Americans hostage, he was able to turn around only years later and funnel large amounts of cash and weapons to them because it would help Nicaraguan Contras.

Under Clinton, the use of private sector contractors exploded. In order to have some involvement in the Balkan conflict that left millions dead from genocidal murder, Clinton found a way around the perceived political harm that could be done by committing troops to the region and instead supplied contracts to American companies. These contractors are supposed to save money, they don't. John McCain used to rail against the structure of military contracts (who knows if he does any more), because they were sucking money away from what the military actually needs.

The surprising aspect of the Maddow book is the lack of full-bodied discussion about the Bush II White House. For those of us on the left, 9/11 represents a significant turning point in many of these debates. The Patriot Act, Gitmo, the Department of Homeland Security hold an Orwellian place in our imagination. The intellectual maneuvering of John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales to allow the executive powers not guaranteed to it are frightening but find little place in Maddow's book. Does she demure on such topics because of their controversy (that seems unlikely)? Or, is it that authors have covered this material in depth (especially Jane Mayer and Naomi Klein)? However, covering this territory in the context of this book would have created a full appreciation to what this decade has done not just to unmoor American military policy but send it spinning out of control.

Regardless of the lack of another fifty-page chapter, what is present in Maddow's book is well worth reading. At times, her cutesy asides can detract from the intellectual rigor of her research, but it breaks the monotony of a rather withering account of the largest military (and largest organization, period) in the the world. If only, all talk-show hosts had Maddow's key talents, we would have a much firmer, fuller debate in this country about policy issues. But let's be honest, if all talk-show hosts had Maddow's curiosity and intelligence, Fox News would not exist. Sigh.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oscar predictions 2011

The year was rough in terms of box office (off over 15% in ticket sales from 2010, and the nominees for Best Picture this year made a fraction of what last year's set of films made. However, a small group of films that paid homage to early cinema ("The Artist" and "Hugo") and a few well-made dramas and comedies rounded out some pretty fierce categories this year.

Best Picture

"The Artist"
As obvious as it may sound, it is pretty shocking that for the first time since 1927 a silent film will win Best Picture. The adulation the film pays to the early cinema of Hollywood has been taken as a due love letter by many critics and Academy members. With the money and power of Harvey Weinstein behind it, this film looks unstoppable.

Best Director

Michael Hazanivicius, "The Artist"

I am rooting for Martin Scorsese to win here for "Hugo," but with wins from the DGA and BAFTA, it seems as if the French director will triumph here.

Best Actor

Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"

With his surprise win at SAG and BAFTA, Dujardin best known for a series of French spy capers may become the first French actor to win the top prize. George Clooney could sneak in here, but the goodwill felt towards Dujardin and Uggie seems fit to propel the man and his dog to the stage of the Kodak Theatre tomorrow night.

Best Actress

Viola Davis, "The Help"

Though the film is controversial and seems to argue that black people will do jsut fine if they ally themselves with white people, no one can argue that Davis' performance is not a tour de force. since no one has seen Glenn Close's "Albert Nobbs," and Meryl's "Iron Lady" has languished, Davis will triumph here.

Best Supporting Actor

Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"

He has won virtually every award this season and this will serve as a lifetime achievement award for the "Sound of Music" vet.

Best Supporting Actress

Octavia Spencer, "The Help"

I desperately want Janet McTeer of "Albert Nobbs" to win, for that was the best performance by far put on the screen this year. However, it seems that academy members have not been fast in rushing to see this particular indie and it has no steam behind it. Spencer's comic part in "The Help" has been popular with audiences and even some critics have noted that her performance gives an actual edged black voice to the film. With wins across the board, Spencer in her breakthrough part will take home the statuette.

Best Original Screenplay

"Midnight in Paris," Woody Allen

Allen has not won an Oscar since "Hannah and Her Sisters" in 1986. Allen's ode to American modernism and the City of Lights has become one of the most successful films of his career and the Academy will anoint him again for it.

Best Adapted Screenplay

"The Descendants," Alexander Payne

There was a point in November when it seemed "Descendants" was going to be the film to beat. It was the favored candidate for Actor, Director, Screenplay and even Picture. Now that we are at Oscar weekend the only category where it seems poised to win is in the screenplay category.

Best Song

"Man or Muppet," "The Muppets"

Since the music branch, which has been a mess since the 1970's, decided to nominate only two songs in this category, it seems pretty evident that Kermie and the gang will triumph here. It's a shame that songs from films like "Gnomeo and Juliet," "Albert Nobbs," and "The Help" couldn't be nominated, so we could have some music performances at this year's awards.

Best Score

Ludovic Bource, "The Artist"

With the hoopla over Kim Novak saying she felt "raped" by the makers of "The Artist" because they referenced part of Herrmann's theme for "Vertigo," the score of the silent was necessary for the film and made people think about sound in a way far different from your typical blow-em-up flick.

Best cinematography

Emmanuel Luzbeki, "Tree of Life"

Even though Terence Malick's film had more detractors among its viewers, the film was admittedly beautiful, and should triumph in this category. Luzbeki has been nominated several times before and this should be his first win.

Best Editing

"The Artist"

To make a silent film palatable to today's audiences, it needs a tight script and even tighter editing which allows for the easy comprehension of the plot without dialogue.

Best Visual Effects


A gorgeous film that believes that effects aren't always about explosions.

Best Art Direction


The recreation of the turn-of-the-century Gare Montparnasse is breathtaking.

Best Costume Design

"Jane Eyre"

Academy voters love period pieces for this category and "Jane's" moody clothes told an appropriate story about its characters.

Best makeup

"Albert Nobbs"

Glenn Close's and Janet Mcteer's transformations looked so normal and unassuming that it looked almost as if there was no makeup.

Best Sound Editing


I think Fincher's "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" will win here, but since "Drive" was my favorite movie of the year, I want it to win in the sole category for which it was nominated.

Best Sound Mixing

"Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Sound and camerawork conspired to create one creepy view of Sweden.

Best Documentary Short

"Saving Face"

This heart-wrenching look into Pakistani women who were the victims of acid attacks (usually by husbands or scorned lovers) and the attempts to repair their injuries through plastic surgery may have issues with its first-world view of third-world women and the concomitant epistemological and ethical quandaries arising from the imposition of western rationality on "Oriental" issues, but the film sheds light on the problems of women who are denied their voice (cf. Gayatri Spivak).

Best Documentary Feature


This category is difficult. The directors of "Purgatory 3" actually through their tripartite series on the 'West Memphis 3" helped them attain freedom from a prison sentence imposed on innocent young men painted as satanic murderers. The Academy, through its mission statement of helping bringing new understanding of the world through film, found a movie that can be argued had a real-world impact. Wim Wenders, however, crafted one of the most beautiful films about dance in 3D, expanding our vision of how the human body can be represented on screen. I will go with Wim.

Best Animated Feature


I am thrilled that the dull, clunking "Tintin," helmed by Spielberg failed to make it into this category. Thankfully that means the cute and well-crafted Gore Verbinski piece, "Rango" will be able to take its well deserved award.

Best Foreign language Film

"A Separation," Iran

The Iranian family drama seems like a surefire bet in this category, but this category is notoriously difficult to predict because to be able to vote one must be certified as having seen all 5 films and special screenings, thus a small portion of members actually vote in this category, throwing all tools for prediction out the window.

Best Live Action Short

"The Shore"

Enjoy the show, folks!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mourning Whitney: The Melancholic Diva

Whitney Houston's ignominious end on Saturday afternoon was a tragic but somehow fitting end to a life touched with talent and so much pain. Discovered in a bathtub at the famous Beverly Hilton, Houston's submerged body was lifeless and at 48, her end came in the most melodramatic way possible, just a day before the music industry's biggest night, the Grammys. At the annual awards, artists poured on the praise and artists Adele and J Hudson seemed to be crowned Whitney's successors, with the former winning six prizes (including all three top categories) and the latter performing a rousing rendition of Whitney's signature song, "I Will Always Love You."

The articles that have appeared have told the now familiar tale of Whitney's rise to stardom from a family of music insiders, mother Cissy Houston, the famed gospel singer; cousin Dionne Warwick, the muse of Burt Bachrach; and godmother Aretha Franklin, the so-called Queen of Soul. When discovered by Clive Davis of Arista Records, Whitney became a superstar virtually overnight with rousing ballads and dance anthems, attaining seven straight number one hits, a feat unmatched by any artist since Whitney. She maneuvered herself easily from kiss-kiss songs to kiss-off songs of heartbreak.  She achieved her greatest success with the soundtrack to her Hollywood melodrama, "The Bodyguard" (1993). With her slick version of Dolly Parton's original, "I Will Always Love You," Houston proved that her unique mezzo voice could belt out a song with emotion and power.

 Many commentators have stated that we should eschew a sensationalist rattling of Whitney's addictions and public disgraces, but with a diva of Whitney's stature, her public success is deeply intertwined with her private defeats, the two are inextricably linked. And in many ways, this is the pattern for many of the past century's greatest female talents. From Maria Callas and Judy Garland, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, to Amy Winehouse, Mariah Carey and now Whitney, these women have lived within the realm of feminine excess, pushing the boundaries for acceptable female behavior. The strong voices they create in their films and music seep into their quotidian lives, usually ending in erratic behavior, addictions and careers littered with innumerable peaks and valleys. Every hit has a concomitant flop, and every time that they have faded from the limelight, there is the possibility of a comeback.

This cycle of success, failure and comeback becomes the narrative of redemption that so many hunger for. Mariah Carey proved that even a woman who crashed and burned very publicly was welcomed back with a new album. In fact, Mariah's 2005 album, "The Emancipation of Mimi," contained the biggest hit of her entire career, "We Belong Together." She won her first Grammy since she was crowned Best New Artist in 1990. Mariah trudged through the valley of the shadow of death and emerged unscathed on the other side, more popular than ever. Unfortunately, these type of stories are few and far between, and Whitney was not able to repeat it.

Whitney attempted the comebacks. She succeeded in 1998 with her album, "My Love is Your Love," which featured two top-ten hits: "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" and "Heartbreak Hotel." The album had a more urban sound than her earlier work, utilizing new producers and having guest spots from Enrique Inglesias, Deborah Cox, and Kelly Price. In the early 90's, Houston had been criticized for songs such as "Didn't We Almost Have it All?" for sounding too "white." At one NAACP Image awards of this time, her nomination for best female r&b singer was actually booed. In many ways, her marriage to Bobby Brown was a calculated move to win back some of this audience and gain some credibility with the audience that she felt she should have on her side. This album allowed a smooth return to the R&B urban charts  "It's Not Right" became her biggest hit in years and won her the last Grammy of her life. It became a dance-floor anthem for people dumped and one of the finest kiss-off songs of the decade.

But after that, the drug use increased. At a 2001 Michael Jackson concert, she appeared so thin--anorexic, even--that her bone-thin arms were actually digitally thickened. Her 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer became an ominous warning to celebrities of the pitfalls of fame. She spoke of herself in the third person dropping such witty bon mots, as "Whitney Houston makes too much money to do crack;" "Crack is whack;" or my personal favorite, "Show me the receipts, Diane Sawyer." The problems with her hubby became the fodder for comedians with the antics of her ridiculous reality show, "Being Bobby Brown." Houston was reduced to a supporting character, often appearing bemused and befuddled, shouting, "Bobbbby!" at the top of her lungs, the only use of her famed vocal pipes on the entire show. Arrests of Bobby for beating ensued, and the marriage finally ended in 2007.

Unfortunately, the break with Bobby did not broker a new, reinvented Whitney. The attempts at sobriety failed. The last album in 2009, "I Look to You," showed how the years of drug abuse, smoking, boozing and carousing had ravaged her voice. Even the best song of the album, "Million Dollar Bill" (penned by admirer, Alicia Keys) did not display the range that "I wanna Dance with Somebody" had exposed in the early days of her career. The R. Kelly song, "I Look to You," which was supposed to be her next ballad, showed a voice that did not have the strength it had only a decade before. The succeeding tour was a disaster. At a London show, a critic wrote that at "one point, Ms Houston said her soprano friend did not show up tonight. Her mezzo or contralto friends failed to show up either."

She was supposed to be recording a new album and star in a remake of the 1976 film musical, "Sparkle." But the true tragedy of Saturday's news was that few people were truly shocked. Just like Amy Winehouse, this past summer, it seemed these women were doomed to an early death. The roller coasters of their lives seemed inevitably leading to disaster. Whitney's attempts to curry favor with those surrounding her only led to her self-destruction to be carried to its logical conclusion. At least, we still have the music from those early days. We will continue to dance and sing along to those ballads and disco tracks. Whitney would be happy about that.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Addendum to the Best Films of 2011

I forgot to name "Margin Call" as one of my favorite films of the past year--a major oversight! The film follows the members of an investment firm over the course of a night where they realize their holdings are about to be devalued and have to be nefariously dumped onto the market. The tense and terse atmosphere is aided by a remarkable ensemble cast that spans generations, from Jeremy Irons and Kevin Spacey to Demi Moore to Zach Quinto, the insulation of the setting and time (one night in one firm) adds to our understanding of the contingencies that led to the financial meltdown of 2008. The ending is rather abrupt and could have had a coda to give some sort of emotional closure, but this may be disingenuous: have any of us felt any closure from this global recession?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Best Films of 2011!

The Best Films of 2011

2011 has served as a rather complicated year for cinema. Hollywood witnessed one of the least attended years since the mid-1990's. The top ten grossing movies of the year were all derived from comic books or sequels. Many of these sequels performed poorly in comparison to their predecessors (e.g. Pirates 4, Kung Fu Panda 2, Transformers 3, Happy Feet 2), begging explanation as to why they are continuously made even if the demand for them within the domestic market has dried up. (However, their grosses overseas have made most of these films profitable). "The Help" and "Bridesmaids" demonstrated the strength of female audiences and the benefit of word of mouth this past summer. The awards season has been littered with over bloated fare that have performed rather poorly, and, unlike last year's "King's Speech" or "True Grit," no massive hit has emerged from the pack. There were several films this year that posed interesting perspectives to themes on human relations, even though many of these have been ignored by the Academy.

1. "Drive"--Nicolas Refn's adaptation of James Sallis' novel takes viewers on a winding, high-intensity tour through the streets of Los Angeles, as we follow a stunt driver (given no name during the course of the film) who helps a neighbor with one last heist. The heist goes terribly wrong and the characters are faced with an intricate web of relationships and vindictive vengeance to navigate themselves out of a seemingly impossible situation to resolve. With a star turn from the smoldering Ryan Gosling and a subtle, yet evil Albert Brooks, "Drive" is a film of images. The film has slight dialogue and the bass 1980's synth pop created for the soundtrack adds a flair to the numerous scenes of fast cars in the fast streets of Hollywood. The Danish director has crafted an ode to Hollywood car chase cinema (most notably "Bullitt") that surpasses all of the films emerging from Hollywood in the past year.

2. "The Artist"--To think that the most innovative movie of the year was a black and white silent film about Hollywood in the 1920's seems far-fetched, but French director Michel Hazanavicius (best known for a series of spy romps) has managed such a feat. Following the antics of a matinee idol, played to delightful effect by the dashing Jean Dujardin, the film, much like "Singin in the Rain," analyzes the shifts of film-making from a silent method of production to new sound technologies and the careers which this innovation ended. The star of the film is the Jack Russell terrier named Uggie, who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. With a brilliant score that references the love theme from bernard Herrmann's score to Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and some of the most interesting sound effects editing of the entire year, "The Artist" succeeds as the year's most loving homage to cinema.

3. "Hugo"--Martin Scorsese wanted to direct a film that his young daughter could watch without censorship and, within the acclaimed fillmmaker's oeuvre, that is simply not possible with the violence of his gangster films or the subtle sophistication of his literary adaptations. "Hugo," however, allows audiences to revel in the early days of cinema in France--a period that far precedes the 1920's of "The Artist." The movie has been divisive for some, but the film is a touching evocation of Paris in the decade after World War I, as Georges Mélies toils in a toy shop in the Gare Montparnasse. His career faded into oblivion by 1914, and the film follows as a young orphan, who sets the clocks in the train station, helps revive the career and memory of the aging Melies (played to the hilt by Sir Ben Kingsley). With wonderful footage of Mélies' films contained, "Hugo" succeeds as bringing a period of cinema seemingly consigned to the wastebin of history vibrantly back to life.

4. "Midnight in Paris"--Woody Allen's latest film has been the most successful critically and commercially since his apex in the 1980's. In an imaginative tale of an American writer in Paris, the film navigates around the meanings of nostalgia and Paris' importance to the psyche of American novelists for the past century. When Gil, played by Owen Wilson in his everyman sensibilities, discovers that at the stroke of midnight on a certain street of Paris one can actually travel back in time and have drinks with Fitzgerald, Dali, Gertrude Stein, or Josephine Baker. The film ends by telling us that nostalgia has its pitfalls and dangers and makes us miss the pleasures of our present, a point of prescience that Allen would not have necessarily made in the 1970's, but Allen has matured and blossomed in this new stage of his career.

5. "Bridesmaids"--When I first saw the preview of this film, I was convinced that it was nothing more than a tired derivation of "The Hangover" in order to lure in female audiences. I was wildly incorrect, however. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo have created a delighful, if raunchy, wedding comedy that innovates by having few male characters (save for Wiig's love interest) in a film about matrimony. And it is a platitude that women care more about nuptials than men, but weddigns can also strain the relationships of female friends and break apart bonds through the act of marrying two other individuals. With a supporting cast of talented improv artists, "Bridesmaids" may usher in a bold sea change in Hollywood where women can call the shots in the usually male-dominated world of comedy.

6. "Melancholia"--Lars von Trier's oeuvre is dedicated to women on the edge, females unable to cope in a world where their personal situations have become unbearable. From "Dancer in the Dark" to "Dogville," Trier has taken on women ambivalent towards the men in their lives and "Melancholia is no different, except this time the world is about to end as a large planet is about to collide with the earth. Kirsten Dunst, in the best performance of her career (but it's still Dunst, so it's not that good), has married someone, while this planet is hurtling towards our planet. The family's last hours are dedicated to fighting and attempting to resolve familial issues to no avail. The opening and ending montages are particularly striking and gorgeous.

7. "Tree of Life"--There are numerous ties between Trier's film and Terence Malick's meditation on life, earth and even dinosaurs (yes, T. Rex and brachiosauruses!): gorgeous cinematography and haunting scores and attempting to answer all of the philosophical questions of life in one film. Malick who has made only a handful of films in his long career has attempted to fashion a history of the world through the narration of one family's troubled domestic space in 1950's heartland America. The movie grates on the nerves of many filmgoers for being pretentious, and it is most certainly that, but the film tells a haunting tale of the perseverance of violence through networks of kinship as resentment replaces the ability to communicate effectively.

8. "Shame"--British artist Steve McQueen (not to be confused with the now dead American actor) has been known for a body of work (much of it video art) analyzing oppression, usually deploying humor, in the UK. His first film, "Hunger," retold the story of a hunger strike among Irish political prisoners in Thatcherite Britain. "Shame" looks at the effects of an obsession with sex on the psyche of a man who cannot build sustainable relationships. The film ventures into territory that can be interpreted as sex-phobic, but McQueen is not dismissing the sexual acts as problematic but this character's inability to relate beyond the orgasm and the emptiness he faces in a life with no true emotional attachments and only a vast collection of porn.

9. "The Help"--Many believe this feel-good movie should be called "Makes White People Feel Good About Racism," and it is true that the movie like the Kathryn Stockett novel upon which it is based is deeply problematic. I don't understand why the maids in the movie would agree to be interviewed, when they would have faced persecution and perhaps even death from the fact that they spoke of their white employers in less than glowing terms. The cast of actors, most especially Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, have been able to fashion characters far more profound than anything Stockett was able to write. Davis gives a profound performance that elicits emotional responses from the audience in a deeper way than anything Spielberg has created in the last decade.

10. "The Descendants"--I believe Alexander Payne's new film is deeply flawed: his main character faces little emotional growth over the course of the film and to have the work's main conflict be between a man and his comatose wife leads to a very one-sided approach to marital discord. In a stronger year of cinema, this movie would not have made my list, a rather sad fact of this year in cinema. The film does treat Hawaii as the colonized space that it is, analyzing the effect of such a tropical space on its colonial elite as their decadence begins to wear on the islands. I did appreciate that attention to political context, usually devoid in any film about white people in Hawaii.

(I do, however, admit that I have yet to see the Iranian film, "A Separation," or the trans-drama "Pariah")

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Oscar Nomination Predictions 2011

The films of 2011 are a hodgepodge of films. Unique, inventive pieces, such as "The Artist," exist alongside the top ten films of the year, which are all comic book adaptations or sequels (or both!). Many of these sequels have performed with lessened commercial impact than their predecessors (save for "Fast Five" and "Harry Potter 7 vol. 2"). "The Help" and "Bridesmaids," however, proved that audiences are willing to flock to character-driven pieces. Hopefully, next year will see more films like "Bridesmaids," rather than "Bridesmaids 2: The Ladies are Back!" or "The Help, Vol. II: A New Job."

This year, with a set of new rules governing how Best Picture nominees are chosen, has made it far more difficult to predict what the honored films will be, simply because we will not know if there are five, six, eight or even ten films nominated until they are announced. I will assume that this year has been a bit too weak to name ten films, but there are more than five, so I shall eight.

Best Picture
The Artist
Midnight in Paris
The Descendants
The Help
War Horse
Tree of Life
(I really hope "Moneyball" will not sneak in here)

Best Director
Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"
Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"
Alexander Payne, "The Descendants"
Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"
Terence Malick, "Tree of Life"

Best Actor
Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
George Clooney, "The Descendants"
Brad Pitt, "Moneyball"
Leo DiCaprio, "J. Edgar"
Michael Fassbender, "Shame"
(Ryry Gosling could replace Fassbender for "Ides of March," however I would prefer Ryry in "Drive")

Best Actress
Glenn Close, "Albert Nobbs"
Meryl Streep, "Iron Lady"
Viola Davis, "The Help"
Michelle Williams, "My Week with Marilyn"
Tilda Swinton, "We Need to Talk about Kevin"

Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"
Kenneth Branagh, "My Week with Marilyn"
Albert Brooks, "Drive"
Nick Nolte, "Warrior"
Jonah Hill, "Moneyball"

Best Supporting Actress
Octavia Spencer, "The Help"
Janet McTeer, "Albert Nobbs"
Shailene Woodley, "The Descendants"
Berenice Bejo, "The Artist"
Jessica Chastain, "The Help" (she should get it for "Tree of Life")

Best Adapted Screenplay
"The Descendants"
"Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
"The Help"

Best Original Screenplay
"Midnight in Paris"
"The Artist"
"Young Adult"