Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pearls before ... peers

Blogger laments that 'campaigning' fell on deaf ears

Recommendations that fellow film critics give serious consideration for awards to a variety of challenging and difficult, but ideologically and artistically rewarding films go unheeded.

After learning of the practice a few years ago, I "campaigned" lightly for some films I found interesting, and potentially overlooked or misunderstood (see the very first post on this blog: some comments on and exchanges with a fellow critic over the plot and meaning of "The Fountain"). Below see a few sketchy such messages sent to fellow Phoenix Film Critics Society members, in some cases with some of their responses interpolated. (Also just a stray review or two, not yet published, or bit of publicity company feedback.)

The immediately earlier posting is the Society's awards given to films this year, with a comment that consists of the ballot offered by this critic. There was clearly very little overlap between the two, as this critic gave most of his nods to some films that are either somewhat aberrant and/or of limited release, while PFCS as a whole largely stuck to more middle-of-the-road contenders.

Apart from how this movie stacks up in the history of film noir, what’s interesting to me—and is an aspect most people seem to have overlooked—is the parallel in the plots, the two “current” plots with Adrien Brody as Louis Simo, P.I. One is the subplot of his paranoid psycho client, who loses his mind, wife, and freedom over his baseless suspicion that she’s cheating, a theory he’s hired Simo to prove (in vain). The parallel lies in the fact that by the end of the film—despite all the viable hypotheses as to who could have murdered “Superman” George Reeves—Simo realizes it’s as likely that Reeves did kill himself, and that he (Simo) has been pursuing the same kind of possibly misguided, obsessive hunt for a villain (and at a similar risk to everything he holds dear) as his hapless former client.

Campaigning comments Dec. 3
I want to recommend "The Proposition" as possibly a sleeper of a film but one that I think rightly ought to at list make the short list in several categories, including Best Picture, Cinematography, acting (Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, Emily Watson and, in a twist, Danny Huston, who seems to have evolved since a somewhat shambling performance in "Silver City," via "Constant Gardener," to this year's roles--also interesting in "Children of Men.")

But is "The Proposition" eligible? ImDb says it was released in '05. Anyway, I thought it was the best "classic tragedy" since "House of Sand and Fog."



"Babel" impression e-mailed to publicity rep (also see review Nov. 20 print edition of
The Midtown Messenger).
Excellent, but can a "Crash"-like film win a BP Oscar two years in a row? Those who think this Pitt's sudden "Best Acting" turn should recall "12 Monkeys," "Se7en," among other roles. Anyway, an excellent impressionistic view of the irony of fragmentation and alienation in an increasingly globalized world.

"The Good Shephered" impressions given to publicity rep ... nominated DeNiro for "best breakthrough - behind the camera," as best director.
As to the length, it can take a while to depict a character's long, slow descent from apparent idealism into ethical compromise. (Later gravitated toward peer's view that Matt Damon's "Edward Wilson" was never idealistic, so to speak, but determined, ruthless, discreet ... and patriotic, if you will.)

As to scenes and direction, as well as acting, this film is long (and, euphemistically, as a nod to David Ramsey, "leisurely paced"), but every piece eventually fits into the larger puzzle. E.g., the necklace Wilson finally has returned to Laura. Also the suicide note his father left, which he finally opens and reads ... and burns.

But although Wilson seems high-minded and conscientious, he is "patriotic," but apparently only on behalf members of his ethnic clique, as he makes clear in the conversation with Joe Palmi (Joe Pesci—great makeup job).

So it's not too hard to connect the dots of his career of corruptedness, from when he authorizes his first murder—of the German translator he spent the night with—to his later authorization, by declining to object to it, of the murder of his son's fiancee. His having the incriminating goods on FBI guy (William Hurt) all along also shows how he kept his own counsel, heeded the advice that he couldn't trust anyone, and was calculating and untrustworthy himself all along.

The scenes of the murders of both women are disturbing, though brief. The scenes of Wilson with his son, where tender, are also affecting, though the one where his son realizes his fiancĂ©e is not showing up, Wilson Sr.'s supporting embrace is of course a cover for his culpability in her demise—and the shot of the son being held by the father, son not standing on his own two feet, is sad and ironic.

The earlier scene where he doesn't stay to comfort his son in his night fears but instead answers the phone, is telling, and stands as evidence against his later protest to Margaret that "he never abandoned anyone."

Seemingly nice guy, but NOT. Interesting, well-crafted character study.

Only the fact that it seems highly convenient to the story that his son overheard the location of the Bay of Pigs invasion, setting up the final, highly compromising moral choice, is a weakness of this film, from a credibility point of view.


Dec. 8 exchange with PFCS president David Ramsey about the society's choice of "Blood Diamond" as best film of the week (average 8.3 out of 10 rating), in same week in which "Apocalypto" was released ...

Reviews of the films in today's New York Times tend to validate my preference for "Apocalypto."

I agree with you and it was one of the closest votes of the year.

On the other hand Roeper of Ebert & Roeper said "Blood Diamond" is the Best Film of the Year.

More reasons I don't pay attention to other critics.


David Ramsey

I don't know the general value of Roeper's opinions as expressed on the show, but I can tell you this: Someone gave me a remaindered book of his—his agent turns out to be a woman I know in NYC, who I thought had better judgment. It is full of a bunch of lists, such as how you can tell which characters are going to get killed in the first 20 minute of the film, etc., most overlooked films of all time, etc. etc., and it's the biggest bunch of blatantly unsupported, frivolous opinions and various other BS I've ever seen in printed form.

Some critics are definitely more worthwhile than others, though we all have our idiosyncrasies and subjective tastes. And sometimes they do offer a way of looking at something, or something I'd missed, that I am glad to be made aware of.

I'm about as opinionated as they come, but I really do enjoy getting the benefit of other people's opinions too, when thoughtfully arrived at (even if wrong).


Message to fellow PFCS members Dec. 14 as ballot deadline approached
I quite liked "Shortbus," but again, as a Thinkfilm DVD their reproduction problems rendered it unplayable, in this case about 2/3 of the way through—better than the 1/3 of the way through screwiness several of their other DVDs experienced. At least I saw more of it, but that also whet my appetite to SEE HOW IT ENDED!

FYI, my second copy of "Tideland" still had problems, but at least I was able to finish watching it. Campaigning Campaigning Campaigning: Besides the awesome performance of the young actress Jodelle Ferland, the score for this film was very interesting and effective (though long portions had no music), as well as the cinematography—and makeup, so to speak. If anyone was put off by this highly idiosyncratic film's garishness, I urge them to give it further viewing and deliberation. Likewise, the gratuitous chatter on imDb.com and the explicit, non-simulated sex in the film "Shortbus" should hopefully not deter serious critics from enjoying and considering this intelligent, amusing and well-acted film for whatever awards it may merit: ensemble acting? (that's said only slightly jokingly). I also considered "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" an excellent ensemble film, and it was much, much different, and better, than I anticipated it would be. I also chime in in support of the award mentioned in a recent e-mail for "Half Nelson."


Last bit of campaigning before PFCS voting, in response to a Dec. 15 campaigning message urging consideration of "United 93" for best picture (a great film, recipient of PFCS nod in the end, but other films overshadowed it in the view from here.) In other news, "Fending off closest rivals "The Queen" and "The Departed," "United 93" was voted best picture of 2006 by the New York Film Critics Circle on the fifth ballot."

While we're at it, I want to commend "The Dead Girl" as a film of significant merit, with some outstanding performances and other values, easily overlooked for whatever reason. While Toni Collette is more visible due to "Little Miss Sunshine," I am thinking of nominating her for best supporting actress for "The Good Girl"—even though it's an episodic film and she only appears in the first segment.

As far as that goes, Giovanni Ribisi is usually very worth watching, as here, though he was a bit wasted in "Lost In Translation" and some smaller indie film he agreed to star in in which he plays a paranoid star thinking he's being stalked. But anyone recall his role in Sam Raimi's somewhat overlooked Cate Blanchett vehicle, "The Gift"?

I know there needs to be a certain amount of groupthink or all is chaos and people voting for outlandish things are wasting their vote, but as long as we have a top 10, there's room for quirky choices.



Final balloting note: This critic had not as of this post seen several films widely well-regarded and likely worthwhile: "The Queen," "The Prestige," "Hard Candy," "Volver," "Venus," "Casino Royale" and "Days of Glory ("Indigenes").

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