Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I'd Like to Thank the Academy for Giving Me a Reason to Gripe

This column might be deja vu for you if you read this blog around Oscar time last year. But how could I deprive the good people of Central New Jersey the benefit of my bitching.

It's Oscar time again, and only a grouch would grumble about it.

I don't much care about the outcome of Sunday's ceremony, but I've watched just about every Oscar telecast for the past 20 or so years. And as a self-designated arbiter of taste and a culture-war chicken hawk, when America watches something, I watch America.

America loves a good contest. And thanks to the Academy's spotty record in choosing which films to honor, we can always count on a good argument.

For starters, there's the perpetual snubbing of Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese. Not like these two deserved any sort of recognition for, I don't know, the best films of their generations. This year Scorsese's "The Departed" stands to score big — as much on its merits as some kind of lifetime achievement consolation prize.

Scorsese snubs include "Ordinary People" beating out his "Raging Bull" for Best Picture of 1980 and the 1990 travesty of "Dances With Wolves" beating out "Goodfellas." The Academy is notorious for conservative tastes that lag behind cutting-edge cinema. If you throw in "Taxi Driver," Scorsese might have made the best film in each of the last three decades without receiving a single gold trophy.

But Scorsese has company in the undeserved loser's circle. Don't even get me started on "Forrest Gump" trumping "Pulp Fiction" and "The Shawshank Redemption" in 1994.

OK. You got me started. Forrest Freakin' Gump? Granted, I liked this movie when I first saw it. It was exceptionally well crafted, and I was even able to get past some of Tom Hanks' acting ticks to be truly moved by his performance as a sweet, forthright man of limited intellect. But if there has ever been a more cloyingly crass attempt to manipulate an audience without an actual theme or purpose, then I haven't seen it.

Seriously. What are we supposed to take away from this film? Stupid is as stupid does? America has gone through some tough and interesting times? War and AIDS are bad? Life is like a box of simple-minded folk spouting inane drivel?

Anyway, Gump might not be the worst offender among high crimes and Oscar snubs.

In 1941, "How Green Was My Valley" beat out "Citizen Kane." Any guess which one has better stood the test of time? In 1979, "Kramer Vs. Kramer" beat out "Apocalypse Now" and an unnominated "Manhattan." In 1983, "Terms of Endearment" defeated "The Right Stuff."

In 1992, Al Pacino won Best Actor for "Scent of a Woman." After years of playing plausible, layered human beings, he takes home the trophy for portraying some absurd blind curmudgeon who yells jarhead jargon while braying like a syphilitic gorilla. Hoo-ha!

In 2001, Ron Howard won Best Director and Best Film for "A Beautiful Mind," rewarding him for criminally tricking the audience with slick misdirection unworthy of even the worst M. Night Shyamalan offenses.

And last year, the Academy crowned "Crash" for portraying — with some excellent performances and clever editing — America's continuing struggle with racism through crashingly obvious setups.

All right, all right. Maybe I do care. Because sometimes arguing about movies and their Oscar hype can be just as fun as watching them.

Monday, February 19, 2007

This is the Theme to Garry's Show

Ricky Gervais meets Garry Shandling (first of six parts on Youtube) and proves that staged awkwardness is comedy gold. I particularly enjoy the comments at the bottom by people who clearly don't understand this is an obvious set-up by two deadpan masters.

And here's a great piece from the Times catching up with Shandling before the release of a new Larry Sanders DVD set in April.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Why do I hate those dancing silhouettes so? Maybe not all of them. But certainly the hipster silhouettes. For they are the most hateful silhouettes of them all.

24 Reasons Joel Surnow is an Ass

This week's New Yorker has a great piece about torture on 24. Seems like our president and vice president think the show is a real-world documentary on how to fight international terrorism.

Personally, I think Mary Lynn Rajskub's performance is plenty enough torture for anyone.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Are You There God, It's Me, Internet

For a compelling discussion of religious faith between a gay Catholic and a rabid atheist, look no further than the brilliant blogalogue between Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris.

It's been going on sporatically for a few weeks now, so it's lengthy. But I've never read a better attempt for reasonable people with differing views to seek common ground on such a volcanic topic. It's the kind of discussion more people should be having. And it's the kind of discusion so many are simply unwilling to even acknowledge might be worthwhile.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A Cinderella Story

By TPerl

Most of you without young 'uns probably missed this one, but I think it's worthy of my ever-expanding "WTF File". Let's examine:

- OK, another Disney straight-to-DVD video - I see the money-making potential.

- Hmmm, another sequel to a supposed "Disney Classic"? Well at this point, if they can make a Bambi 2, I guess they can make a sequel to anything.

But now this. The next Cinderella sequel - The tagline is "What If?" and the quick synopsis goes: "The evil stepmother conjures up a spell that reverses all of which the fairy godmother did."

So in other words, what if this classic story, the story that in itself is a metaphor, never happened? I think this is just taking things too far for the sake of a extra buck. It's some kind of fairy tale blasphemy, and I can't believe Disney went along with it.

But why stop now? Let's go even further - "What if...

...the Little Mermaid was really a mer-man underneath those fins, and he ain't little if you know what I mean?"

...Sleeping Beauty was a lesbian and would only wake up to some hot princess-on-princess action?"

...Peter Pan was really a 58-year-old pedophile with a rare genetic disorder?"

...Bambi's Mom wasn't really killed?...and it turns out she wasn't really planning on having a baby either...because she was a crackhead...and was raped by a coked-up moose...and when crack-baby half-moose Bambi came out, she stuffed him in a garbage bag and threw him in the stream...then sucked Thumper's dick for more crack money?"

OK. Sorry about that - watching the same Disney DVD 5 times a day for 6 months does things to a man.