Friday, February 5, 2016

The bad taste of Charlotte Rampling

Charlotte Rampling has been leaving a bad taste in my mouth for a lot longer than her major PR blunder a few weeks back, when she made light of the Oscars' failure to nominate any actors of color. Which was obviously a dumb thing to say no matter what the circumstances, but even dumber under her particular circumstances. She suggested that maybe the black actors did not "deserve" to make the shortlist -- while she herself did make this list for the movie 45 Years.

So that experience was kind of gratifying for me, as it allowed me to attach a legitimate reason to the nebulous dislike I have always felt for her.

Not liking her has always been problematic for me, because I have never been able to pinpoint why I didn't like her.

Secretly, I was worried it was because I wasn't attracted to her, which would be a shallow reason indeed. I've never doubted her abilities as an actress. She's always good. But I always don't really like her, and I wondered if it was something about not liking her appearance.

And I've concluded that it is, but not in the way you might think.

My wife and I often talk about how we don't like someone's face. That's not to say they're ugly, or that they have an objectively disagreeable face. Just that we don't like it.

Her go-to example is Australian actress Melissa George. There is almost no doubt that Melissa George is objectively attractive. But my wife doesn't like her face, and her intangible logic has swayed me. Now, I don't like Melissa George's face either.

My same-gender go-to example is probably Eddie Redmayne. Never liked his face. Probably never will.

But Charlotte Rampling is one of a dozen or so I regularly think of when considering this issue of nebulous distaste. Now I can attach something concrete to it, with these casually racist comments from which she has tried her best to back away.

Because it's a quintessentially subjective thing, I'll probably have a hard time describing what it is about Rampling's face I don't like. But since it's probably worth more than just me wimping out on that challenge, let me try.

She has a schlumpy face. She's got a very pronounced pout, and as she usually plays characters who are at least somewhat disagreeable, her face spends a lot of time schlumping and pouting. You'll get some idea of what I'm talking about from that bathtub scene above.

She also always seems irritable. Her eyes drooping at the sides, mirroring her droopy mouth and ready to show her irritation with anyone who crosses her path.

So now is it ageism I'm guilty of? Rampling is 69. When you are knocking on the door of 70, things droop.

But no. See her here. Even when she was "objectively beautiful," she still had a droopy tendency on the sides that contributed to something about her face I don't like.

The funny thing about Rampling is that she's in a lot of films I love, making her a bit like the Andie MacDowell of her age group. (Andie MacDowell being another example of a person whose face I don't like. Actually, Rampling is only 12 years older than MacDowell.)

I haven't seen a single film she appeared in before 1982. But that 1982 film, The Verdict, is a classic. Others since then I cherish are Lemming, Melancholia and Never Let Me Go, and I really like Angel Heart, Swimming Pool, The Mill and the Cross and Young & Beautiful.

Well whatever. I don't like that droopy face and I don't like those comments she made, and somehow, I feel vindicated by all this.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The type of reporter I could never be

There's a moment in Spotlight, which I saw last nightwhen Rachel McAdams' Sacha Pfeiffer knocks on the door of a retired Boston priest, and seems a bit surprised to see the man himself actually answer the door.

When she confirms his identity, for a second a look flashes across her faces that seems to say, "Okay, this is happening" before she launches into her question:

"We have information that you molested kids while serving as a priest. Did you molest kids?"

That's not an exact quote -- unlike a good reporter, I don't take notes when I watch movies -- but it's along those lines, and it's that direct.

In fact, this moment illustrates perfectly why I could never fully give myself over to journalism as a career.

Oh I was on that path. I worked as the reporter and interim editor of a newspaper in Rhode Island from 1996 to 1998, and in 1999 I attended Columbia Journalism School, where the brightest journalism prospects in the country -- dare I say, even the world -- go to take the next steps in their careers. (As well as the ones who can fool them into thinking we fit that description, like me.)

But even before starting at Columbia, I think I knew I didn't have that killer instinct, that courage, that unwavering belief in what is right that distinguishes the kind of journalists we see in Spotlight.

It's not so much that I feared the moment of awkwardness that results from asking an interview subject the question that cuts to the core of their own innocence or guilt. It's rather that I feared the moment of rage at the gall I was displaying at even asking. How dare you ask a question like that? How dare you intrude on the inner sanctum of my own protective shell as a human being who wants to be treated with decency?

Of course, I never dealt with anyone as guilty and as downright despicable as the Catholic priests of the Boston archdiocese, who turned out to be just the first publicly reported among hundreds and thousands of priests the world over who displayed those tendencies. The biggest fish I had to fry were local politicians dancing around some of their own double speak. When I had a story about a police chief who had an unregistered car on his property, it nearly gave me fits.

So just imagine the courage necessary to take on the Catholic church, an institution that counts half of your readership as loyal followers, and accuse it of hiding evidence that priests sexually molested young boys.

I appreciate that kind of courage even more because of my past as a reporter, and it makes seeing a movie like Spotlight all the more rewarding for me. What Spotlight doesn't do is make me wistful for a career path I could have had if I'd made a couple decisions differently. I never had what it takes to stick a microphone in someone's face, either literally or metaphorically, and it was useful to realize that before I threw myself into an arena where I was destined to fail. I suppose it's better to succeed at what I do now, to the extent that I do succeed at it, than to have failed as a reporter.

But that doesn't change one bit my conviction that someone needs to stick those microphones in those faces, and movies that celebrate these proud professionals make me proud to watch them.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tom Brady before Tom Brady was Tom Brady

It's been a bit of a melancholy ten days or so, as my Patriots did not make the Super Bowl, ending what might be Tom Brady's last, best shot at another ring. We don't need to debate Brady's ethics and personality for the moment, nor do we need to recognize that he won a nearly unprecedented fourth ring just last year, further cementing an already fully cemented hall of fame resume. For the purposes of my own melancholy, the only relevant factor is that I'm a sports fan and I like to see my teams win whenever possible, especially when they are this close to getting to the championship game.

So the timing of watching John Stockwell's Blue Crush for the first time since 2002 last night was interesting indeed, as this movie contains a character who is basically Tom Brady.

When Blue Crush came out, Tom Brady was already Tom Brady, but only just barely. When it was released on August 16th of 2002, that was less than eight months after Brady won his first Super Bowl for the Patriots, ending a highly improbable season in which starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered a season-ending injury during the game that dropped the team to 0-2. That elevated no-name Tom Brady to starting QB status, a title he has yet to relinquish more than 14 years later.

So the character in the movie that resembles Brady -- Matthew Davis' Matt Tollman -- could not really have been based on him. It would have been too soon.

But consider the resemblance. Here's Brady:

And here's Davis:

Which probably just suggests that Brady has that "prototypical quarterback look," and the same sensibilities were used in casting Davis in the role of an NFL quarterback visiting Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. That's a place Brady has been quite a bit, as he has been selected to participate 11 times. In fact, he might have actually been in Hawaii for this year's Pro Bowl when I watched the movie, but he declined to participate -- probably since it's hard to get up for that type of exhibition event when you're still sulking over not making it to the Super Bowl.

That's the other thing -- someone quotes a date early in the movie, and it's Wednesday, February 3rd. I watched the movie on Tuesday, February 2nd, meaning that not only was it almost the exact same day on the calendar, but the days of the week were even lined up correctly.

All of this wouldn't be such a coincidence if I'd watched the movie last Tuesday, Australia Day, as I was initially expecting to do. But we ended up somehow deciding we had the stamina to watch The Wolf of Wall Street, even though we'd been to the beach that day. In fact, going to the beach was what put me in mind of finally rewatching Blue Crush.

I say "finally" rewatching Blue Crush because I've actually owned this DVD for more than two years. I didn't buy it, but rather, took it from a curbside, where a homeowner had left a bunch of stuff that had gotten water damaged either because their home had been flooded or because it had been left out in the rain, which was now "free to a good home." Sure, the paper lining for Blue Crush was waterlogged -- sort of appropriate, given the movie's surfing milieu -- but that had no effect whatsoever on its ability to properly play in a DVD player.


I remember loving this movie when I first saw it. In fact, it came in at a lofty 17th out of the 80 movies I ranked in 2002. And though I still saw its charms and it was perfect for the mellow mood I was seeking last night, the only thing I still felt very strongly about on this viewing was its cinematography, especially the surfing stuff. The rest of it was fluffy and agreeable but generally forgettable.

If they film Tom Brady's life story now, Davis could still play him -- at retirement age. Davis is actually only nine months younger than Brady, born in May of 1978 while Brady was born in August of '77.

Which means hey, Brady still has one whole NFL season where he'll be "only" 39.

Maybe he still has a ring or two left in him.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

My nominations for the 2015 Flickchart Awards

As you already know, I'm an active member of the Flickchart user community, participating in the site's exclusive Facebook discussion group (exclusive in the sense that you have to be invited to join), and blogging for the site's blog as well (though pretty infrequently since I exhausted myself on a weekly series in 2013).

Part of this "scared responsibility" is to help choose the nominees for the annual Flickchart Awards, the site's version of the Oscars, with some of the same categories and some that are notably different. After we "chosen ones" determine the nominees, the whole Flickchart user community can vote on the winners, and typically come up with some interesting (though not entirely unpredictable) choices. (In other words, the quality genre picture or the one directed by Christopher Nolan usually seems to win best picture.)

I'm glad to be a part of this, though actually filling out my ballot is something I find very tedious -- something I put off until nearly the January 31st deadline every year. Twenty sixteen was no exception. The tedium comes not from choosing actual nominees, though this is something that gives me fits as well. It's actually that each category contains a point system. You can nominate five in each category, but you are also apportioning 50 points to those nominees in a way you see fit, with a maximum of 15 points going to any one nominee. So if you feel strongly about three nominees and not the other two, you can give those three 15 points apiece and divide the remaining five points between the last two.

If it were just the nominees, I'd still worry about whether I'd determined my exact perfect choices from the previous year's films -- all while not deviating from the Oscar nominations just for the sake of deviating, but trying not to hew too closely to them either. (Which usually works out fine because I haven't seen all the movies that received Oscar nominations anyway.) But then the math throws in one extra level of difficulty that just leads to procrastination.

I did finish my ballot this morning, though -- my January 31st, though still January 30th in the U.S. And I figured, if I went to the trouble and put the work in, might as well get a blog post out of it as well.

So forthwith, a piece of bonus 2015 year-end content, which contains the categories, my nominees, the points they received, and a brief comment that explains my thinking, not to mention possibly highlighting some 2015 film I didn't send enough love in my previous year-end wrap-up posts.

- Best Foreign Language Film: Goodnight Mommy (15), A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (14), The Look of Silence (12), Samba (5), The Assassin (4)

Comment: It was a poor year for foreign language films, as I've already discussed. Goodnight Mommy was the best qualifying film I saw, and I ranked it #32 for the year. (I ranked Wild Tales higher, but as that was nominated for an Oscar in 2014, I didn't feel like I could include it for the Flickchart Awards.) I just didn't really dig The Assassin, sorry. 

- Best Documentary: The Nightmare (15), Amy (15), Going Clear (12), The Look of Silence (7), The Wanted 18 (1)

Comment: My favorite documentary was also my favorite horror film. Go figure. I did rank the documentary The Armor of Light higher, but since I didn't figure anyone had seen it but me, it seemed like a wasted vote here. (But keep that title in your mind -- it's terrific.)

- Best Animated Film: Inside Out (15), Shawn the Sheep Movie (10), Hotel Transylvania 2 (5)

Comment: Because I refused to cast votes for Minions or The Good Dinosaur, I submitted only three nominees. That's fine, but then it's just a maximum of 30 points to spend on them, rather than 50. 

- Worst Film of 2015: The Human Centipede 3 (15), Pan (15), Irrational Man (15), Jupiter Ascending (3), Mockingjay Part 2 (2)

Comment: I tried to go with choices that were prominent enough to possibly get votes from other people, which means that only three of my bottom five are here. I listed Jupiter Ascending and Hunger Games rather than Accidental Love and Hits. Hunger Games might not deserve to be nominated in this category, but I just really didn't like it. 

- Most Anticipated Film of 2016: Star Wars Rogue One (15), Finding Dory (15), Hail Caesar (10), La La Land (5), Midnight Special (5)

Comment: I didn't want to delve too deeply into what's coming out in 2016 to answer this one, so I just chose some titles I was aware of.

- Best Underranked Film (best film that has been ranked less than 5,000 times) - Love & Mercy (15), The Last Five Years (15), The Duke of Burgundy (7), Tangerine (7), Queen of Earth (6)

Comment: This category was interesting in that it revealed to me that exactly half of the films in my top ten for 2015 qualify: my #4, #5, #7, #8 and #10. So those were the ones I included in this category. Which means my top ten had a good mix of mainstream films and more obscure choices. (The "mainstream" choices: Inside Out, Creed, Sicario, The Hateful Eight and The Revenant.)

- Most Underrated Film (film you thought didn't get the audience it deserved) - The Walk (15), Love & Mercy (15), Woman in Gold (10), The End of the Tour (5), Sicario (5)

Comment: I could have included films like Tangerine and The Duke of Burgundy here, but I don't think those movies were expected to have large audiences. So instead I went for under-performing films, which allows me to put a spotlight in particular on The Walk, a film I was trying to keep in my top ten all year but which eventually landed at #12. Some people will tell you that the actual walk is worth the price of admission. I'll tell you that the whole thing is worth the price of admission. 

- Most Overrated Film (film you though received more attention than it deserved) - Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (15), Trainwreck (15), Mistress America (10), Ant-Man (5), Carol (5)

Comment: I feel a little mean including Carol here, because it's a good film, I just wasn't blown away by it. The rest are films I genuinely don't like all that much. I kind of hate Mistress America, actually. 

- Most Disappointing Film (film that didn't live up to your expectations) - Terminator Genisys (15), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (15), Mistress America (10), The Good Dinosaur (5), Carol (5) 

Comment: And here we get Mistress America again, because yeah, I did have expectations for it based on Noah Baumbach. It's valid to ask me whether another Terminator film actually should have had my expectations high, but let's just say I thought the trailers looked really good. I didn't really have expectations for Mockingjay, per se, but I was eager to see how things would conclude. Mostly I just wanted to take another dig at it. 

- Most Surprising Film (film that defied your expectations) - Creed (15), Queen of Earth (14), The Big Short (10), Spy (8), Blackhat (3)

Comment: Creed should just run away with this one, but this was also the occasion for me to recognize being happily surprised by a Melissa McCarthy movie (though I also saw and really liked The Heat after that) and to give a shout out to a film I watched just as a matter of course, Michael Mann's Blackhat, but really enjoyed. 

- Best Looking Film - Creed (12), Sicario (12), The Walk (12), The Revenant (12), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2) 

Comment: A chance to acknowledge the great DPs of Sicario and The Revenant (Roger Deakins and Emmanuel Lubezki), the unique and distinct visions of Creed and The Walk, and Star Wars

- Best Writing - Inside Out (15), Creed (14), Sicario (12), The Hateful Eight (8), Room (1)

Comment: This one I did a bit more by feel. I chose my top three films of the year, the film written by Quentin Tarantino, and then Room, just because I don't know. It was a film that was residing in my top ten, but then eventually I just decided I wasn't thinking about it as much as I should for a film ranked that high. It ended up at #15. 

- Best Directing - Ryan Coogler, Creed (15), Denis Villeneuve, Sicario (14), Bill Pohlad, Love & Mercy (12), Richard LaGravenese, The Last Five Years (5), Marielle Heller, The Diary of a Teenage Girl (4)

Comment: Pretty straightforward as this is four of my top five films, excluding my #1, even though I'm sure Pete Docter bears a large portion of the responsibility for the tone of Inside Out. Then I decided to throw a vote to the female director who most impressed me this year and was one of two big breakouts from Diary of a Teenage Girl, the other being star Bel Powley (as we will see later). 

- Biggest Breakthrough (actor, director, filmmaker, studio, etc. that you 1st noticed this year) - Tessa Thompson (15), Daisy Ridley (15), Bel Powley (15), Marielle Heller (3), Alex Garland (2)

Comment: And here's Powley now! Probably the year's most naturalistic performance by a newcomer, though Ridley was pretty awesome too. And here's Heller again. 

- Best Supporting Actress - Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy (15), Tessa Thompson, Creed (15), Tatiana Maslany, Woman in Gold (10), Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina (7), Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight (3)

Comment: "Banks or bust" should have been my slogan for all awards campaigning this year. I kept talking about how great she was in Love & Mercy and awarded her with maximum points. However, special nod to Maslany for being the emotional center of the incredibly moving Woman in Gold -- plus I think I just wanted to acknowledge her, since 2015 was the year I discovered Orphan Black and her absolutely otherworldly range as an actress. 

- Best Supporting Actor - Sylvester Stallone, Creed (15), Benicio del Toro, Sicario (10), Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight (10), Tom Hardy, The Revenant (8), Christian Bale, The Big Short (7)

Comment: Stallone Stallone Stallone. But this was also a chance to acknowledge two other Oscar snubs: Jackson and del Toro. Who are both minorities! Hey! Darn, I just realized I meant to nominate Room's Jacob Tremblay here but forget. He should really be a lead, though, which complicates choosing him. 

- Best Actress - Elisabeth Moss, Queen of Earth (15), Sidse Babett Knudsen, The Duke of Burgundy (14), Brie Larson, Room (10), Emily Blunt, Sicario (10), Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road (1)

Comment: This was the category with the most number of deserving contenders who weren't nominated for Oscars. I haven't heard enough discussion about the fact that Theron surprisingly wasn't nominated, since everyone thought she was a lock. But she gets my fewest points. Moss gave one of the most astonishing performances I've ever seen, and I was also campaigning for Blunt. However, it was watching The Duke of Burgundy again last night that gave me renewed appreciation for just how subtle the work of Knudsen is in that film. This is a jam-packed category. 

- Best Actor - Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant (15), Paul Dano, Love & Mercy (12), Jason Segel, The End of the Tour (12), Michael B. Jordan, Creed (10), John Cusack, Love & Mercy (1)

Comment: I'm fine with this award going to Leo since I think he deserves it. Best acting, most dangerous acting, most committed acting. All of it. However, I think Dano and Segel were robbed of nominations, and Jordan is a great option as a minority (#oscarssowhite). I had one more point so I gave it to a deserving Cusack.

- Best Overall Cast - Inside Out (15), Sicario (14), The Hateful Eight (10), The Revenant (6), Ex Machina (5)

Comment: Just looked at impressive ensembles where I thought there were no weak spots. Ex Machina stretched my definition of "ensemble" a bit but I thought it should get some love. Then again, Sicario has only three main performance as well -- as does The Revenant. So I guess my logic in this category was flawed at best. 

- 2015 Outstanding Achievement in Film (any person in film who had a stand out year) - Alicia Vikander (15), Oscar Isaac (15), Domhnall Gleeson (10), Samuel L. Jackson (5), Thomas Mann (5)

Comment: The work was done for me on this one as this is something I sort out for my year-end wrap-up post. I just went with the three I chose as "three who had a good year" and then two from my honorable mentions (Mann will seem like the real WTF choice to the guy tabulating the votes). Here I boosted Vikander to 15 points because even though I haven't seen The Danish Girl, she actually got nominated for an Oscar for it, so I thought it was fair to give her some additional credit beyond her two films I did see.

- Best Scene (your favorite scene from a 2015 film) - Single-take boxing match, Creed (15), Dance scene, Ex Machina (15), Juarez, Sicario (10), Bear attack, The Revenant (5), The walk, The Walk (5)

Comment: This was one category I didn't want to lose much sleep over, as any number of scenes would have been worth nominating, even from films that were otherwise not my favorites. So I tried to stick to the top of my list, with four of the scenes coming from my top 12 and then one other from my #25, just because it was the first answer that occurred to me when I considered this category. Yeah, that dance scene with Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina is terrific. 

- Best Picture - Inside Out (15), Creed (15), Sicario (10), Love & Mercy (5), The Hateful Eight (5)

Comment: Five of my top six films. I could have chosen some other criteria but ultimately I didn't. I left off The Last Five Years because I knew there was no chance anyone else would actually nominate it in this category. And though I'm willing to throw away votes in other categories, this doesn't seem like the one where I should be doing that.

Hey, if I write another corresponding blog post next year, maybe filling out my ballot won't seem so tedious in January of '17. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Perfect pauses: Tangerine

When I first wrote this post in late 2011, I think I expected to make it a semi-regular feature -- to identify instances when I randomly paused a movie at a near-perfect moment.

More than four years later, I have yet to revisit the topic. But it's never too late.

Tonight we were watching Tangerine, my #8 movie of 2015 -- my wife for the first time and me for the second. We had to pause it to go deal with some nonsensical attention-grabbing stunt by our older son (who should have been sleeping), and this is what we got:

I love how much this one image speaks to this movie -- even though it contains nary a shot of a transgender prostitute. (Actually, that's not true -- if you squint there is in fact a tiny transgender prostitute in the lower right-hand corner.)

It's not just the wonderfully run-down retro sign for Color TVs, which must have legitimately still been up somewhere in Los Angeles even when this was filmed in 2014.

It's not just the sky, which is the perfect pre-sunset shade of pinkish blue (though it doesn't come across so well in a photograph -- a screen grab might have worked slightly better).

It's not just the tiny transgender prostitute, just any other small person in a big world.

It's not even the wonderful lines of the building as they converge toward the horizon.

No, it's the fact that the on-screen text fits perfectly into the building's available blue space, as though it were purposefully captioned this way for a photo.

I was glad to discover the word "perfect" coming to mind so regularly for me on my second viewing. This truly is a tremendous accomplishment for all involved, and to watch it again was simply a joy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What did Jen have to do?

This post also could have been entitled "I finally saw: Cake," not because going so long without seeing a movie that was released about a year ago was a big shock, but that for this particular movie it sort of was, since my wife was involved in the screening competition from which the writer of Cake emerged -- with Cake as the winning script in that competition and attracting the attention of Jennifer Aniston. (The director is also an alum, making it sort of a double win for that organization.)

Thinking of it sort of as her baby (my wife's baby, not Jennifer Aniston's), and it being available for viewing on Netflix months ago, it did seem like kind of a long delay for us to eventually sit down with it. But that we did on Monday night.

And after finishing it, I'm finding myself wondering why the Oscar nomination I prognosticated for Jen in this post never transpired. (I wasn't just nominating her in that post, which I thought was a foregone conclusion -- I was giving her the damn award, sight unseen.)

What did she have to do, anyway?

She did what you have to do -- she uglied herself up. But then she also gave a really assured, angry, touching performance. It may have been a calculated attempt at accolades, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have worked.

Yet she had to be content with that Golden Globe nomination. Oscar didn't come knocking at her door.

I've always thought Aniston was a good actor who was just choosing beneath her. When you're that type of person, you get a lot of rom-coms thrown in your face, and those are the ones that tend to carry the big paychecks. As much as you're addicted to the idea of accolades, you're also addicted to the creature comforts provided by big paydays.

Aniston made her share of those movies. She did her time.

But she's also been showing us what she could do throughout. I think specifically of a film like The Break-Up, one of those typical rom-coms that the people involved transgressively turned on its head. (At least, I don't think the marketing department knew it wasn't really a romantic comedy.) Aniston pours her all into a story about a relationship with Vince Vaughn that doesn't work out. The stakes are a lot lower than they are in a movie like Cake, but Aniston doesn't care here. She respects the material and she shows you how the workaday inattentions and betrayals of the person you think you love can really cut you. That performance kind of destroyed me, actually.

Aniston doesn't do as much destruction in Cake, maybe -- but it seems like maybe a more challenging type of destruction. She plays a woman in a support group who is basically awful to everyone around her, not only the other group members, but her live-in maid and her estranged husband. She's got a good reason for it that Cake smartly reveals by degrees. But Aniston's got to make the character pretty unlikable before she can become likable, and that she does. I'm not going to do her the indignity of going and searching the web to figure out how much weight she put on for the role, but it was just enough that this is not the glamorous tabloid fixture we know and love. This is a scarred woman, both literally and figuratively. They aren't pretty scars, either -- either literally or figuratively.

So I wonder why the Oscars didn't find a spot for her in the nominations? I guess we have to look at the other 2014 nominees to try to find out:

- Julianne Moore, Still Alice - Eventual winner. No way she's giving up her spot among the five nominees.

- Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night - Powerhouse performance in the role of a woman struggling with some of the things Cake's Claire struggles with. She can stay.

- Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything - I still haven't seen this one, but my skepticism about the type of movie it is also makes me skeptical about how good Jones could possibly be in it. Nominating the actress opposite Eddie Redmayne in one of his nominated roles seems to be a thing, as Alicia Vikander was also nominated opposite Redmayne in The Danish Girl this year -- and I also suspect that to be a certain type of movie (though I also have not seen it).

- Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl - I stand by my assertion that Pike is not a good actress. But she does career-best work in a movie that had everyone's tongues wagging. She can stay too.

- Reese Witherspoon, Wild - Not having seen this either, I'm sure this was a fine performance. I'm not sure it was more than that.

So Aniston could have taken the spot of either Jones or Witherspoon, if only in the latter case because Witherspoon already has an Oscar (and I think it's fair when the wealth is spread on these awards). On that basis you could also exclude Cotillard, but I'm loath to do that simply because she was so damn good in Two Days, One Night.

And yeah, I'm kicking out the only two nominees whose work I haven't seen, which is always dangerous. But I still think Aniston deserved a slot.

Is Aniston not popular enough with her fellow members of the acting branch? I tend to think of Jennifer Aniston as a well-liked celebrity, but maybe not. Maybe Angelina Jolie put out a hit on Aniston's nomination chances, threatening anyone who voted for Aniston that they can never talk to Brad Pitt again.

Anyway, I do think it's a bit of a shame as these roles don't just come along every day. Aniston will be turning 47 in two weeks, and pretty soon she won't even have to ugly herself up anymore. (That's a claim based entirely on the linguistic serendipity of being able to call back to something I wrote earlier, not a reality based in fact.) Okay, so Aniston will still be gorgeous for a while yet, but will she be offered the right roles? Or have the shrewdness to find them herself? Then again, she does figure to be offered fewer and fewer rom-coms ... not only because of her age, but because those rom-coms don't really exist in the same way they did just a few years ago. When Aniston was still in her so-called prime.

Because not every role gets you something as meaty to sink your teeth into as Cake. Sarah Silverman just tried it this year with I Smile Back. And while her instincts on how to play that character were beyond reproach, nothing else about the story or the script could be described that same way.

It takes a lot to line up for you to ever even get a nomination, let alone win the damn thing. And Aniston would join a perfectly respectable -- nay, a downright exclusive -- club of people who never have. Nor would she even have the same convincing list of roles that should have won the elusive prize as many of the others in that club.

But I don't know, I think back to those tear-streaked, hopeless monologues of frustrated generosity of spirit from The Break-Up, and think that I'd like to see the efforts of one of my unabashed soft spots finally rewarded.

Jen should one day have her Cake and eat it too.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Useful in context, useless out of context

I've never been one to spend a lot of my free time listening to movie scores, and the Birdman score has just reminded me why.

Out of the context of the images, they can seem completely devoid of meaning. Completely devoid of, well, anything.

The Birdman score is probably a particularly extreme example of that, as the score consists only of percussion -- and fairly spare, indistinct percussion at that.

Don't get me wrong -- I thought Antonio Sanchez' music worked like gangbusters in the actual film. It was a perfect accompaniment to the project Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was trying to pull off, and not just because the drummer would sometimes actually appear on screen, as one of many semi-hallucinations of the main character (or is it just our hallucination as the viewer?).

Which is why, when I saw the Birdman score at the library, I figured "Hey, why not?" Since we now have a car, and since I now have a new computer that doesn't choke on discs from the library, I now have two ways to give it a listen, whereas just three months ago I would have had none.

But I was almost laughing as I listened to this score over the weekend. There's so little to it, I cannot imagine anyone -- even intense fans of jazz percussion, of which I am not one -- purchasing this and feeling like their $15 to $20 would have been well spent.

Nearly every track is under two minutes long, and they all seem to start up hesitantly before dissipating uncertainly. There's nothing distinctive about any of it as a standalone piece of music. Crucially, there are also no moments when you can say, "Oh yeah, this is that part when ..." Or none that I got to in about the first 14 tracks, anyway.

While I'm choosing to slam the Birdman score in particular, these are definitely more generalized feelings. And even my favorite musician of all time is not immune to them. When Trent Reznor delivered his brilliant score for The Social Network -- a score I've listened to at least ten times -- it was not a sign of things to come for him. I found nothing even remotely rewarding about slogging through all 37 tracks of the score to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl connected with me only slightly more, a benefit of at least having a couple "oh yeah, this is the part when ..." moments.

However, this does not mean that musical scores are always useless out of context. Just recently I've been thinking fondly of Michael Giacchino's music in Inside Out, and was thunderstruck by Ennio Morricone's epic score for The Hateful Eight. Not only do scores sometimes immeasurably enhance a film, they do frequently make a good independent listen.

Or parts of them, anyway. I think with most scores, there are a signature song or two that you remember, while the rest basically feels like filler. And truth be told, filler is probably what scores regularly should be. You don't want a score to dominate a film. Sometimes you just want it to be background.

So I think what would really work for me as a listener of scores would be to extract individual songs, individual significant moments from films and put them together in a complication. In order to keep it from being discordant, the task would then be to find movies with scores that strike a similar tone, so you aren't jumping from Giacchino to Morricone and back again.

However, from the Birdman score I would extract nothing. Nothing in those first 14 tracks, anyway. If I listened to the rest of it I might feel differently. In fact, I kind of remember that moment near the end when the superheroes are dancing around on stage and the jellyfish are flopping around on the beach, and that comet is falling from the sky, as possibly being distinctive. Maybe.

It's not a conclusion I reach with any relish. After all, Birdman was my #1 movie of 2014. Ever since it won best picture last year, though, I've been finding reasons to have buyer's remorse about my choice. As Birdman backlash has kicked in full time, I haven't been immune to it. And this is just one more example.

Regarding Birdman, ignorance -- in other words, the time when it was just a good movie and not an Academy standard bearer -- was indeed a virtue.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

I finally saw: Gremlins 2: The New Batch

I was pretty good about getting to sequels of popular movies back in the 1980s and 1990s. That is, unless they were not all that popular with me.

The original Gremlins kind of fits that latter description. I've seen it more than once and everything, but its tone has never sat comfortably with me. It's too scary for a movie aimed at children, and it's too childish for a movie aimed at adults. I don't know that it scared me per se, but even back when I was 10 or 11 I realized there was definitely something off about it.

As the summer of 1990 was the one between my junior and senior year in high school, I probably considered myself even less prone to the juvenile but violent antics of Gremlins 2: The New Batch -- especially after I saw its trailer, which showed that the series had cut any tenuous tethers it had to the realm of realism.

And I might have gone to my grave without ever prioritizing a viewing were it not for this Key & Peele sketch, which was shared in one of my Facebook groups back in September:

Quite simply, how can you see something like that and not immediately throw in the movie?

It wasn't immediate, but after another inciting incident (to use a screenwriting term) I knew the time had come. My son came across it at the library the other day, filed in the kids section (!!!). He was drawn in not by the cute Mogwai peeking out of the desk drawer, but the reptilian arm of the cigar-smoking gremlin in the office chair. His imagination started to run wild about what that unseen monstrosity might look like.

I told him it was too old for him, too scary for him.

And then snuck it into the stack of videos we were borrowing so I could watch it myself.

That viewing transpired last night after I returned from the Australian Open, way too late at night to start a movie. I would have gotten started around 11 except that my wife was still finishing off the last 20 minutes of the movie she was watching. So I didn't actually get started until around 11:30. But in a way, that seemed like the perfect time of night for what I hoped would be a slice of glorious outrageousness.

It was as absurd as the Key & Peele skit suggested it would be -- but still not all that satisfying.

Oh, it's clear the makers of the movie were in on the joke. They basically decided they were just going to blow it all up and go for something that would make people laugh at how idiotic it all is. Though there's at least one gruesome death I can think of that resembles the ways the gremlins are massacred in the kitchen in the first movie -- one gremlin meets the business end of a shredder -- the attempt to genuinely scare anyone is gone from this movie. It's a full-on comedy.

So in a way it's probably slightly more appropriate for kids than the first movie. But being so much dumber, it's something I'm less likely to show mine.

I wanted this movie to make me laugh at the brazenness of these creative choices, and get on the same page of just viewing this as a full-on farce. Instead I really just felt myself shaking my head. I don't necessarily think the K & P sketch ruined the element of outrageous surprise, because the stuff they talk about was the kind of stuff that turned me off to this movie 25 years ago. If it was spoiled, it was spoiled ages ago. I think it's just that sometimes, things that are bad are not so bad they're good.

Still, the closing shot of the actor Robert Picardo, who plays the chief of security of the building the gremlins infest, reluctantly finally accepting the advances of a female gremlin approaching him in a wedding dress with the wedding march playing in the background? That put a bit of a smile on my face. The type of smile the movie meant for me to have all along.

In its very last scene, I sort of succumbed to Gremlins 2.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Advertising + affordable CG = this weird thing

If you saw the poster to the right, you might say, "Well, Paddle Pop seems like a pretty strange name for a movie, but it looks like a reasonably legitimate movie."

However, if you lived in Australia and you saw the poster to the right, you'd say, "Huh? They made Paddle Pop into a movie?"

See, Paddle Pops are actually a type of ice cream bar here. They're an ice cream treat that comes on a wooden stick (or "paddle"). And the lion seen prominently in this poster is their mascot.

That there should be a movie about this lion -- who takes the name Paddle Pop in the movie, completely unironically -- and that the movie should be nearly 90 minutes long, is just plain ridiculous.

Oh yeah, then there's this -- from what I've been able to glean from walking through the room during the four or five times my son has been watching it, it's actually sort of good. Not just the digital animation, but the actual writing, not to mention the incredible amount of world-building that goes into it.

Incredible for a movie about an ice cream pop mascot, that is.

How did we come into possession of such a movie, you ask? Well that's even more interesting. They were giving them out at the zoo. For free.

Or maybe that's not more interesting, as maybe the only way to get people to acquire such nakedly promotional materials is to give them to them. But it's interesting because they did put so much money and thought into the movie, only to have it hit the marketplace as a freebie.

What strikes me as a little bit weird is that Paddle Pops don't seem to particularly require an additional marketing push. They are one of the most readily available of summer treats, and I see kids eating them constantly. It's almost like if the world's leading soft drink company made a movie about an elf wizard who can control carbonated substances like Magneto controls metal, and called that hero "Coca Cola."

It just goes to show you how cheaply you can make good looking CG. I mean, I talked about how much money they put into it, but the thing is, maybe they didn't put a lot of money into it. Maybe your average joe can cook up something that looks this good these days. I mean, once you've got the software that automatically figures out the shadows based on the location of the light source, half the job is done, right?

I'm kind of wishing now I had waited to write this post until after I'd watched it. Normally I wouldn't give something like this my attention, but maybe I need to find out just how good it really is -- just how many worlds they really did build.

And if I do that, maybe The Audient will ultimately have two posts about a movie based on an ice cream treat.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The abuse of the near-perfect score

Time for another rumination on the ways I'm struggling with correctly applying star ratings to movies.

In 2015, I successfully clamped down on throwing a perfect score to very many films. Out of 304 new-to-me movies I saw in 2015, I gave only four of them a five-star rating on Letterboxd. That's only one-tenth of one percent of the movies I saw last year.

Four-point-five stars? That's another story. I did that 34 times. That's more than 11% of all the movies I saw.

And I did see some good movies in 2015, no question about that. But were they just good, or were they really, truly great? And what is the cutoff between good and great in a star rating?

It's that same old struggle, the one that always makes me question again the validity of star ratings -- or certainly their objectivity. Their transferability.

And even though I've been trying to be less wanton with my 4.5-star ratings, a problem I've been conscious of especially during the second half of the year, I'm not off to a good start in 2016. I've seen 33 movies so far in 2016 (I know that's a lot, but January is always a busy month) and a full seven of them have received 4.5 stars. Or 21%.

It's hard to figure this out when I have people in my life who tend toward either extreme.

For one there's my editor at ReelGood, who is notably stingy with his five-star ratings (which must be doubled for ReelGood, where the ratings scale is 1 to 10). He didn't give the maximum 10/10 to any movie he reviewed in 2015, though he did give the rating twice in 2014. Not only that, but he'd tease me about each new 9 I submitted. It just so happens that I reviewed many of my favorite films of last year, resulting in seven scores of 9 out of 37 reviews I wrote, or nearly 19%. But then when you include the two perfect scores I gave, that's nine reviews of 9 or higher, or nearly a quarter of all my reviews. When you include the five reviews where I gave an 8, that's 14 of 37 with an 8 or higher, or nearly 38%. And with two of those, I wanted to give a 9 but shied away from it to maintain the sense that I wasn't just a movie-loving loon.

So I've been overpraising movies, right? Erring too much on the side of film optimism, right?

Hold on there. I just read the top 15 of 2015 of a guy in my Flickcharter discussion group, and he gave five stars on Letterboxd to ALL FIFTEEN films on the list. His rationale was also convincing: "I don't use half stars in rating; I give five stars to anything I'd be happy to say could be/is in the top 10% of movies I've seen, and each honestly makes that cut."

Wow, just imagine how tied into knots I'd be if I cut out the half stars. Making me choose between three stars and four? I just couldn't do it.

So that leaves me in the same spot I always find myself whenever I force myself into one of these exercises of self-examination: no closer to a perfect answer. I clearly want to recognize films for going above and beyond but not being perfect. Some people might give those movies four stars. I guess I've been giving them 4.5. But it does create less overall margin for error. It does create fewer spaces in which to express the subtle differences in the gradations in greatness between two separate movies.

I guess I'll just continue going with my gut, and trying not to think about it too much.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

No Audio Audient: The Freshman

Welcome to 2016! And welcome to my new monthly blog series, No Audio Audient.

As you recall from this post, I'm challenging myself more than I ever have with my 2016 series, tackling a personal bugaboo, silent movies. Oh, I've seen a couple dozen of them, so they are not entirely anathema to me. But a couple dozen is still not very many, given that I'm closing in on 4,500 movies total. Time to get another dozen on there.

The good news is that many of them will be short, making their viewing that much easier. And then there will be those like D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, which will be 197 minutes. Maybe I'll work my way up to that one.

But we'll start somewhere in between with the 76-minute The Freshman, a Harold Lloyd vehicle that was not necessarily on my radar until it came up for discussion recently in my Flickchart discussion group on Facebook.

To be slightly more accurate, the discussion about this movie has yet to occur, but will this Wednesday -- Wednesday already being here in Australia, but not due for a few more hours in the U.S. The Freshman was chosen as this month's "group rank," which basically means we watch something most of us haven't seen and subject it to the normal process of adding it to Flickchart, but we vote on each of its matchups as a group. That's possible because we have a group chart that has been assembled entirely by majority votes on such duels, conducted through Facebook polls. Yep, this group gets pretty granular and is extremely active. I figure I get 50 or 60 notifications from this group a day.

Anyway, I decided to watch The Freshman first -- instead of the previously advertised choice of Sherlock Jr. -- in order to potentially participate in this group ranking. (I say "potentially" because I'll be asleep during many of the duels anyway.)

But it makes a symbolic starting point otherwise because I'm a bit of a freshman when it comes to silent films. I've seen my share -- more than your average person, less than you average cinephile. But I'm still timid about it, still greeting the whole experience with a bit of trepidation. Not unlike the high school senior who was the big man on campus, only to find himself busted down to role of pipsqueak again once he gets to college.

Lloyd's Harold Lamb goes into the experience with considerably more zeal. Attending Tate University seems to be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. In fact, he's so excited to go that he's been preparing himself by watching a movie called College Hero, and has even perfected the little dance that the movie's main character uses when he introduces himself to people. It's a little bit of rapid, fancy footwork that immediately precedes his introductory bow. Of course, the fact that people will probably laugh at this sooner than they'll be charmed by it is an indication of how green Harold actually is.

When Harold gets to Tate, some of his attempts to take people by storm end up falling flat on their face, but as Harold is such an optimist and so naive, he mistakes much of their negative attention for positive. He instinctively goes to a line from the movie to get him out of an embarrassing jam, telling people to call him "Speedy," but the nickname takes hold in a way Harold again confuses -- he thinks people love him, when in fact, it's more like they love him in the role of "campus boob" (to quote one character). Harold's other main notion when coming to Tate is that he wants to join their football team, even though he has a notable lack of athletic abilities. He's granted membership on the team as a tackle dummy and water boy, though the coach tells him he's a proper substitute because optimistic Harold is so darn difficult to disappoint.

Harold also has a girl he likes he met on the train to school (Jobyna Ralston), who doesn't have the heart to tell him what people really think of him. Of course, this all points toward a moment of redemption in The Big Game.

This is a sweet movie, and it does indeed showcase some of what made Lloyd the third name you'd mention after the big two in silent comedy (Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton). Lloyd's fitness with the little dance he does is a perfect introduction to his abilities, which also come across in the tackle dummy scenes and a dance scene where he's trying to keep his hastily stitched together tuxedo from coming apart at the seams. It's all pretty charming.

The fact that I don't have a lot more to say about it does worry me a little bit. I don't want to give extra credence to a narrative that has already gathered too much steam with me, that silent movies represent a fairly simple version of storytelling that don't invite you to plumb their depths very deeply. However, it's certainly true that a silent comedy, especially one lacking any particularly memorable set pieces, can be easy to assess mostly at face value. I don't suspect that will be how most of the movies in this series end up striking me.

I will say that one of my fears about silent movies has already been satisfactorily answered. I've gone on record saying that part of the reason I've shied away from them is that their running time can leave me in a place of uncertainty as to how to categorize them, namely whether I can consider a 35-minute movie to compare to other features I've seen on an apples-to-apples basis. At 76 minutes, there's no doubt that a film like The Freshman qualifies as a feature by any standard.

So next month will indeed be when I watch Sherlock Jr. -- barring another rank of a silent movie in the Flickchart group, of course. (That's a joke, as this is the first such movie we've ranked.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Long time no ... zed?

Saw this poster for Zoolander 2 the other day, and it struck me as a particularly bad advertisement to hang in an Australian movie theater.

A poster with a tagline that reads "Long time no Z" is actually saying "Long time no Zed" if you read it out loud in these here parts.

Just another way that Australia fails to conform to the "correct" way of doing things. Don't even get me started on the whole "starting seasons on the first day of the month" thing.

Or does it fail to conform?

I had a weird experience at work the other day where I was training a new starter, and during the training he had the occasion to pronounce the acronym ZZZ as part of our work. He was talking to a client on the phone, and instead of saying "Zed Zed Zed" he said "Zee Zee Zee."

I was a bit gobsmacked, as this is a native Australian -- one who is probably 15 years younger than I am, but that still means he's been around speaking Australian for something like 25 years. The weird thing was that he wasn't saying it to appeal to me or my American ways. He was saying it because that's how he was taught to say it growing up. Making him the only Australian child I'm aware of who was taught that way.

The even weirder thing was that he thought it was weird that I thought it was weird.

So is Zed dead, baby? Is Zed dead?

Not yet, I don't think. In fact, as far as I can tell this is a total aberration. However, it does give me hope. Maybe if they start saying the letter Z like Americans, the next step will be figuring out how to release movies according to American release dates.

What I'm really curious about is who will win the battle of the zoos at the multiplexes in early 2016. There's Zoolander 2, of course -- and it has been a long time, as the original came out 15 years ago -- but there's also Zootopia, which figures to be the next movie I see in theaters with my son. He loves the bit about the sloths talking slowly in the trailer. Which is pretty much the whole trailer.

Given that they're aimed at completely different audiences, it could very easily be a tie.

Z you then.