All (Oscar) Politics is Local

Front Page ChallengeThe post-nomination debates are raging in the newspapers, but the National Post’s front page summed it all up nicely:

SNUBBED BY OSCAR: No Best Picture nod for Dreamgirls; Jack Nicholson, Borat and Brad Pitt get shunned.

The lack of a Best Picture nom for “Dreamgirls”, yeah, that’s kind of newsworthy in light of the film’s eight nominations … but, well, is “shunned” really the right word?

I mean, it’s not as if Nicholson doesn’t have three Oscars already; it’s not as if “Borat” wasn’t, you know, actually nominated for something; and it’s not as if Pitt, whose production company produced both “Babel” and “The Departed”, was told he couldn’t attend the ceremony this year.

I know, I know. It’s all about grabbing eyeballs and telling people what they think they want to hear. And, evidently, they want to hear how great it is that big Hollywood stars (and that “Borat” guy you’ve been hearing so much about) have been shown up at the whole being-famous thing, while our very own Deepa Mehta — a national treasure! — has been honored with a nomination for Best Foreign-Language Film for “Water”.

Now, I know we need homegrown stories, but really … I was at the Varsity yesterday morning for a screening, and the Deepa machine was going full-bore, with journalists lining up to chat with her about her year-and-a-half-old movie and how great it is that — how did she put it in the Globe? — oh, right, that was just a picture of her sitting in an auditorium, she wasn’t actually quoted or anything.

Yes, she’s a lovely person and she’s entitled to every bit of exposure she can scrape out … and because we’re very nice up here in Canada, no one will mention that “Water” is kind of disappointing, and probably doesn’t stand a chance against “Pan’s Labyrinth”, “The Lives of Others” or even “After the Wedding”.

Still, what else were we going to put up for the nomination? “Bon Cop, Bad Cop”?

How ‘Bout Them Oscars?

And the copyright infringement goes to ...Salma Hayek must have been up at three in order to look as good as she did for the press conference announcing the Oscar nominations, which is held at 5:30 PST in order to dominate the day’s news on the East Coast … and even so, she looked kind of groggy, like she’d nodded off in the makeup chair just moments earlier.

Hell, maybe she thought she was still dreaming, being present at the biggest rally of Mexican talent in the history of the Academy Awards. With the not-so-curious excision of “Dreamgirls” from most of the major categories — clearly, it was supplanted in Oscar’s kitsch slot by “Little Miss Sunshine”, though it still managed to pick up a total of eight nominations — Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Babel” became this year’s dominant force, with nominations for Picture, Director, Screenplay and two Supporting Actress nods, for Adriano Barazza and Rinko Kikuchi.

Meanwhile, Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” and Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” — probably the two best films of 2006, each of them far superior to Inarritu’s festival of artfully lit misery porn — had to settle for consolation prizes. But those prizes are still fairly impressive: “Pan’s Labyrinth” is up for no less than six statuettes, including Best Foreign-Language Film and Best Original Screenplay; that’s more than just the pat on the head the Academy has offered to most critical favorites in the past, that’s genuine recognition.

(More discourse after the jump.)

Continue reading How ‘Bout Them Oscars?

Thumb Down

Trust me, I've been doing this foreverHere’s my Metro review of “The Hitcher“, producer-demon Michael Bay’s latest attempt to cash in on the horror remake trend. It’s about as successful as his “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” pictures, which is to say it’s extremely violent, logistically questionable and — when you get right down to it — entirely unnecessary.

The original “Hitcher” is not a great movie, but it lingers well in the mind — the dynamic between Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell is charged with homoeroticism as well as sadism, Eric Red’s script slithers along with the implacable logic of a nightmare and the violence, when it comes, is genuinely shocking.

None of that made it into the new version. It’s just wall-to-wall screeching tires and screaming victims, with Sean Bean stalking a couple of fresh-faced idiots across New Mexico, killing everyone with whom they make eye contact. There are a couple of boo! moments, but no real scares. This is what the kids are looking for in a horror movie nowadays?

Well, maybe not: It seems “The Hitcher” came in fourth at the box office over the weekend, behind “Stomp the Yard”, “Night at the Museum” and “Dreamgirls”, respectively. Maybe the kids stayed home and spun up the DVD of the original film. About half an hour in, that’s what I wished I’d done.

Resistance is Futile

There is no copy protectionI didn’t bother to mention it when Engadget broke the news over Christmas that HD-DVD’s vaunted copy protection system had been broken, since it appeared the protection itself remained intact, and only a few titles would be “liberated” by the hackery … but now, it looks like the wizards behind the HD-DVD crack have dented Blu-ray’s armor, too.

This isn’t terribly surprising, since both formats employ the same protection, called AACS, as their first battlement against duplication. But Blu-ray uses a second tier of encryption, BD+, that has yet to be hacked.

Oh, it’ll happen someday — everything gets hacked eventually — but right now it looks like another strike against the HD-DVD platform.

Especially when one sees something like this turn up online.



I expect I should like to thank the Academy ...The Academy Award nominations are announced on Tuesday, which means the studios are playing it safe this weekend — widening the runs of a couple of likely honorees (like “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”), and bringing back a few Golden Globe successes (like “The Last King of Scotland”, which roars back onto screens after Forest Whitaker’s Best Actor – Drama award, and “Babel”, which expands considerably in the wake of its Best Picture – Drama win).

Also, there’s the week’s requisite dead-zone genre picture; today, it’s “The Hitcher”, which didn’t screen for critics until last night and therefore avoids a slew of opening-day reviews that will call it unnecessary, superficial and silly. (Don’t worry, I’ll be using those terms on Monday.)

And then, tucked away in small runs, there are two very good little movies:

13 Tzameti“: In Gela Babluani’s striking debut, a young man (the director’s brother George) sees an opportunity for a big score and winds up trapped in a terrifying nightmare. Don’t watch the trailer, don’t read any other reviews, don’t even look at the poster — just go down to the Royal, buy a ticket and strap yourself in.

Venus“: Age has not dulled Peter O’Toole’s magnificent screen presence, and he makes the most of his sympathetic wobbliness in this only slightly trite drama about a decrepit actor who’s smitten with a comely — if rather obnoxious — young woman. Director Roger Michell packs the film with marvelous performances: There’s Vanessa Redgrave as O’Toole’s tolerant ex, Leslie Phillips and Richard Griffiths turn up as O’Toole’s fellow luvvies, and newcomer Jodie Whittaker very nearly steals the picture as his yawpy crush object.

Also opening this week is “This Film is Not Yet Rated”, which Rick reviewed for Metro and therefore slipped past me. But since Mongrel’s releasing the DVD in a couple of weeks, I expect I’ll see it soon enough.


Bread ... good?This arrived via Purolator, promoting MGM’s upcoming “Fiddler on the Roof” SE.

It’s a challah. A fresh challah, specifically, from the Open Window bakery.

Look, I’ve got nothing against being the recipient of random baked goods — honestly, who could say the world wouldn’t be a better place if cupcakes fell out of the sky every now and then? — but I get this, and I think: Someone’s marketing department has too much money.

On the other hand, Kate now has toast for the weekend. So that’s something.

UPDATE: Hey, I’m not the only one who gets this stuff!

Nekkid at 1080p

Our flaws just make us hotterIt always comes down to porn.

Sony’s Blu-ray format may have a greater percentage of Hollywood studios on board — everyone but Universal, really, and that’s only a matter of time — but it appears the adult film industry has other plans.

According to Fleshbot, dirty-movie distributor Digital Playground has just switched its affiliation to Toshiba’s HD-DVD platform after initially releasing some titles to Blu-ray. (Another distributor, Wicked Pictures, sided with HD-DVD from the start.)

The decision makes some sense, since HD-DVD allows for combo discs with a standard DVD side — a good way for a company to hedge its bets as consumers move hesitantly into the high-def field — and it also avoids the inevitable bad publicity when some child finds Daddy’s grown-up movie in the family PS3.

It’ll be interesting to see how (or if) this affects HD-DVD player sales; personally, I have to wonder whether there’s really a demand for high-definition porn in the first place. I mean, the whole point of pornography is an idealized representation of sex … does that include being able to see Tera Patrick’s razor burn?

Of course, the format war is awfully close to being a moot issue: Engadget reports that LG’s high-def combo player will ship early next month.

Back to Normal

News, in tiny little bite-sized thingiesHome for twelve hours, and I’m already racing to catch up with myself — CTV NewsNet is having me on in the 10:30 AM block to discuss the Golden Globes, which means I have to get there in about fifteen minutes. So, well, check it out if you’ve got cable. In the Toronto area, Rogers subscribers can find it on channel 62.

And as far as the Globes … “Babel”? “Dreamgirls”? Really?

Eastbound and Down

Sing John Denver and I'll slap youThe Palm Springs film festival, she is concluded, and we have our winners:

Best Foreign Language Film

Pan’s Labyrinth, directed by Guillermo del Toro

Best Actor

Mads Mikkelsen, “After the Wedding”

Best Actress

Blanca Lewin, “In Bed”

You can find more specific coverage, including my expanded review of “Pan’s Labyrinth”, as it goes up at the FIPRESCI site. Now, however, it is time to crawl into bed and get as much sleep as we can before the obscenely early wake-up call, and then it’s off to Toronto with the customary bagful of American candy.

(It turns out they still sell mint chocolate M&Ms at Christmas … just not in Canada. But now they’re really cheap!)

I am such a six-year-old sometimes. But a six-year-old who gives prizes.

Playing the Away Game

Hey, is that Ryan Phillippe? I love that guy!Sure, I’m on the other side of the continent, but the world keeps turning, and there are plenty of movies opening this week.

Arthur and the Invisibles“: The ascent of one-note child actor Freddie Highmore may finally be thwarted with the release Luc Besson’s messy, spastic kid’s film, in which Highmore discovers a magical world of computer-generated elves in his grandparents’ backyard, or something. Creepy auteurist note: The love interest voiced by Madonna is a dead ringer for Milla Jovovich in Besson’s “The Fifth Element”. Eew.

Fired!“: A personal documentary from actor Annabelle Gurwitch, who got fired from a Woody Allen play and turned them lemons into lemonade (and a profitable franchise; there’s also a “Fired!” book and a stage show). At the Royal through Monday; tonight’s screening also serves as a book launch.

Letters from Iwo Jima“: Clint Eastwood’s bookend to “Flags of Our Fathers” has an intimacy and a focus that eluded its predecessor, suggesting that this is the movie Eastwood wanted to make all along, and the other was just a contractual obligation. Moody and slow and heartbreaking, and beautiful to regard … it’s got “boffo box office” written all over it!

Miss Potter“: Beatrix Potter spent her days playing with her imaginary friends and telling her stuffy parents she didn’t need to marry. Charming fantasist or unmedicated schizophrenic? Chris Noonan’s fluffy, pointless costume drama is hell-bent on selling us the former interpretation, with Renee Zellweger bustling about while Ewan McGregor and Emily Watson look on admiringly.

Stomp the Yard“: What would happen if you threw “Footloose”, “Rize” and “You Got Served” into a blender? Finally, we have an answer to the question that’s haunted America for years …

Catching “Primeval” today or tomorrow … did you know it’s about a crocodile? Because it is.

My other other gig.