Wednesday, February 28, 2007


UPDATE 3/9/07: First, I want to apologize for the lack of new material on SLIFR over the last week. As I suspected it might eventually, life finally caught up with me after I posted this last Wednesday and gave me a severe whuppin'. (More on that later.) But I've been very happy to see the comments thread on this post extend as far as it has and would love to keep it going for a little while longer anyway. But that's not to say that there won't, in the next few days, finally be some more new stuff posted. There will. But that whuppin' life doled out to me has made me realize that the posts might not be coming as fast or as furious (or as meekly, depending on my mood) as they have in the past. That said, I got out to see two movies that made me feel like writing this past week-- Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan and David Fincher's Zodiac-- and write on them I shall for this weekend. (I have to say, it was quite a chore NOT reading the reviews that looked to be raves for Zodiac coming from Jim Emerson, Manhola Dargis, David Edelstein and others, but now that I've seen the movie I look forward to swimming in their thoughts about it a bit too.) Also up for this weekend, some general thoughts wrapped around one of my favorite relatively unsung stars of the '30s and '40s, as well as a write-up on my first pass through the New Beverly grindhouse coming up this Sunday night-- Rolling Thunder and The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Thanks, everybody, for staying tuned even when the lights have been dimmed just a bit this week. Marquee on full power very soon!

P.S. Here's Chris Oliver's report from the first week of the Los Angeles Grindhouse Fest 2007.

P.P.S. Here's a new theatrical trailer for Grindhouse that I saw before Zodiac last night. Oh, boy!


I have been known to express my weariness with life in Los Angeles on occasion, and I would still characterize my mindset as a whole lot more small-town these days than my immediate environment would suggest. But let me, at the risk of annoying everyone who doesn’t live in the Los Angeles area, say that sometimes it is good to live this close to Hollywood. The American Cinematheque and its monthly wonders are one reason. The cathedral that sits at the edge of downtown in a place called Chavez Ravine is another. And this month, in preparation for his upcoming project with Robert Rodriguez entitled Grindhouse, professional geek, ex-video store employee, scenester, politically incorrect raconteur and occasional movie director Quentin Tarantino is providing local cinephiles with another exceptional benefit to calling Los Angeles home. It seems that the New Beverly Cinema, the city’s only remaining seven-day-a-week operating revival house, has turned over programming duties to Tarantino for the months of March and April. (As film fans in Austin will tell you, Tarantino has done this sort of thing before.)

The director has responded to the New Beverly's generosity by lining up a gut-bucket cornucopia of authentic grindhouse trash cinema to celebrate not only his upcoming movie, but the whole experience of seeing sleazy cinema classics in the only movie house left in L.A. (outside of the Vine on Hollywood Boulevard) that feels physically, spatially and, yes, spiritually related to the downtown second-run trash palaces that fed Tarantino’s (and everyone else’s) desire for this kind of rotgut, low-rent fun to begin with.

Officially titled The Los Angeles Grindhouse Festival 2007, this two-month calendar of delights is exactly the kind of thing that revival houses should be doing to keep the atmosphere fresh and their own scheduling sensibilities from ossifying into an endlessly repeated series of favorites. (One of the New Beverly’s most reliable, and undoubtedly profitable, double features is Blade Runner and Chinatown, and it seems to come around once every five or six months.) Tarantino's treasure chest is crammed with plenty of familiar names and places, sure-to-be new faves and even some titles you may never even heard of. Some of us like to think we’re pretty well travelled on the rails that make up the route of the Sleazoid Express, and some of us most definitely are much more so than others. But Tarantino is seizing this opportunity to claim a sort of geek supremacy over this catalog of cinematic crumbs and crimes, all the name of spreading the gospel of grindhouse (and, of course, Grindhouse), and it's hard to deny him his enthusiastic moment when one gets a glance at the treats he’s got lined up.

The New Beverly has the entire Tarantino Los Angeles Grindhouse Festival 2007 Calendar online. This link will serve you well with theater information, prices and showtimes, plus IMDb links to every movie, just in case some might be unfamiliar. So rather than duplicate the New Beverly’s valuable service here, I thought I’d take the opportunity to highlight each of the double features by taking a look at the original poster art of some of these masterworks. In the event that I could not find the actual one-sheet for a film (there may not be actual one-sheets for some of these films!) I substituted representative DVD art or art from some other source in the hopes of giving an adequate visual representation of the movie. (The images vary in size and quality and are presented here as well as I could render them.) Back in the mid ‘70s when those of us who frequented movies like this were looking for information, very often all we had to go on were the ads on the movie page or, if we were really lucky, the one-sheet posted in the “Coming Attractions” window of the theater. And after we'd seen enough of these programmers we knew that often the posters were far better than the actual movies. So, in the spirit of letting the exploitation art speak for itself, as it had to then, let’s take a look at Tarantino’s double (and triple) features night by night. (I’ve provided links to other pertinent info about the film when available that you can access by clicking the film’s title.)

March 4-6 Max Julien and Richard Pryor in the blaxploitation classic The Mack (1973), plus The Chinese Mack (1974)!

March 7-8 AARON GRAHAM ALERT! How fast can you make it to L.A. for this screening of John Cassavettes and Britt Eklund in Guiliani Montaldo's Machine Gun McCain (1968), plus Henry Silva and Richard Conte in Wipeout (1973)?

March 9-10 Crown International's masterpiece The Van (1977) starring Stuart Getz and, yes, Danny De Vito, heads up a triple feature that really gets filled out by Pick-up Summer 1980) and Summer Camp (1979).

March 11-13 The movie which inspired the name of Tarantino's short-lived Miramax offshoot Rolling Thunder Pictures gets a rare screening. It's Rolling Thunder (1977), directed by John Flynn, written by Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould, and starring William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones. The co-feature is a rarity that was a personal favorite of mine in the mid-'70s-- director Charles B. Pierce, who also brought you the indelible frights of The Legend of Boggy Creek, returned in 1977 with the southern-fried Friday the 13th pre-cursor The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

March 14-15 Chinese Hercules (1973) and Black Dragon (1974) come to town, and they're pissed!

March 16-17 Sex! Sex! Sex! Sex with a Smile (1976), Sex on the Run (1977) and Raquel Welch et al in The Oldest Profession (1967).

March 18-20 More blaxploitation thrills from The Brotherhood of Death (1976) and Johnny Tough (1974).

March 21-22 Giallo fans, rejoice! Autopsy (1975) and Eyeball (1975) together at last!

March 23-24 Ralph Bakshi's rarely screened and controversial Coonskin (1975) screens on a triple with French cartoonist Pichu's Shame of the Jungle (1975) and Neal Israel's Tunnelvision (1976).

March 25-27 One of my must-see double features of the festival. Rock Hudson, Telly Savalas and, yes, Angie Dickinson, in Roger Vadim's Pretty Maids All In a Row (1971), presented with co-hit Revenge of the Cheerleaders (1976).

March 28-29 More kung fu! Cue overcaffienated foley artists! Fearless Fighters (1971) and Supermanchu (1973)!

March 30-31 Another excellent triple feature sports lots of bright red grue courtesy of The Blood Spattered Bride (1972), Asylum of Blood (1971) and (attention, K!) Juan Carlos Moctezuma's Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary (1975) starring Christina Ferrare(!)

April 1-3 Lewis Teague and John Sayles spin the story of Dillinger's Lady in Red (1979) starring Pamela Sue Martin, plus a taste of Bare Knuckles (1977).

April 4 only A feminist response to Sam Peckinpah? We'll see. The Female Bunch (1969) plus co-hit Wonder Women (1973) starring, among others, Nancy Kwan.

On April 5 the New Beverly Cinema is given over to a sneak preview of a 2007 release (could it be this?). Details forthcoming. Keep an eye on the New Beverly Web site.

April 6-7 Another fave from my hgh school days sees the glory of the silver screen again! It's Jonathan Kaplan's rough-and-ready White Line Fever (1975) with Jan-Michael Vincent and the unforgettable Slim Pickens, plus Nick Nolte in the grim sequel to director Max Baer's 1975 exploitation hit Macon County Line-- it's Return to Macon County (1975), of course.

April 8-10 Ground control to Majorette Tom. Go back to space with The Girl from Starship Venus (1975) and then down to earth again with The Legend of the Wolf Woman (1976).

April 11-12 Slithis (1979) and Screams of a Winter Night (1979), which looks a little Boggy Creek-ish to me, even as its title makes reference to a Bergman movie I bet none of its makers have ever seen!

April 13-14 Troma in the house with Hot Summer in Barefoot County (1974) and the unknown quantity Redneck Miller (1977).

April 15-17 Another unknown quantity, The Muthers (1976), heads up a double bill which is anchored by the very odd thriller Fight for Your Life (1977).

April 18-19 Mas martial arts! Mas overcaffienated foley artists! Dragon's Vengeance (1972) and Kung Fu: The Punch of Death (1973)!

April 20-21 Aren't any of these in 3-D?! The Swinging Barmaids (1975), The Swingin' Pussycats (1969) and The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974).

April 22-24 It's back to the cemetery with Grave of the Vampire (1974) and then to the living room couch with Jailbait Babysitter (1977).

April 25-26 Two more from the kung fu vaults! Return of the Tiger (1979) ("One of Bruce Li's best!") and Stoner (1974), a very cool thriller with George Lazenby and Angela Mao.

April 27-28 Yul Brynner, a bunch of Italian guys (and look real quick-- Martin Balsam) light up the screen in Death Rage (1976), teamed with even more delightful hijinks in Cry of a Prostitute (1974)... Oh, my God, that's Henry Silva...

And the festival ends on another bone-cracking note as Quentin Tarantino presents The Real Bruce Lee (1973) along with another unknown quantity, Lee Lives Within.

Now, there ought to be something in there to pique your curiosity! If there is, and you're in Los Angeles and planning to head out to any of these shows, drop me a line and maybe we can say hi in the New Beverly's quaintly crowded lobby, or perhaps even spill out onto the street during intermission and gab furiously about the outrages we've just seen perpetrated on the screen, before rushing back in for more, of course! Looking at these posters has got me praying for more free time than I know I'll ever have, and enjoying the process of dreaming about seeing these movies just ike I did when I saw many of these ads in the movie pages of newspapers n cities where I just knew I'd never get to go. Well, eventually I did, and thanks to Tarantino perverse efforts here, some of these golden titles just might be destined no longer for the anticipatory shadows of my imagination, but instead to be splashed onto the screen with brilliant light just so's my eyes can finally see 'em! Thanks, Mr. Tarantino. This looks to be a lot of fun!

(And thanks, Terry, for the hot tip! Which ones are you going to see?)


Hot on the heels of Jim Emerson's supercalifragilistic Contrarian Blog-a-Thon, easily the most wide-ranging and sheer fun blog-a-thon yet to come down the pike, Jim raised some fascinating questions re the blog-a-thon phenomenon, its origins, intentions and future. These questions deserve attention, and it is my intention to devote some of mine to those questions this week (Frankly, the Oscars burnt me out a little bit, and I needed a little break!) But until then, Jeff Duncanson has some more fun in store for voracious cinephiles in a couple of days. It's the weekend long Billy Wilder Blog-a-Thon, the epcienter of which is Jeff's keen blog Filmscreed. This will be a grand opportunity to put forth your two cents about this celebrated and irasicible writer-director, or just sit back, collect site bookmarks and set yourself up for what promises to be a ton of excellent reading on the subject. I had hoped to find a copy of Buddy, Buddy-- the effects of the Contrarian Blog-a-Thon are obviously still rippling through my system--but I was unsuccessful, so I'm not sure what, if anything, I'll be contributing. But whether I do or don't matters not-- Jeff's sure to be hosting a snazzy cocktail party of sharp observations about an oeuvre that is always interesting to hash over. Don't forget: The Billy Wilder Blog-a-Thon this coming weekend, March 1-4, at Filmscreed! See you there!

Saturday, February 24, 2007



I don’t know about you, but it seems as if I’ve always known the voice of Judy Holliday. As a kid, I recognized it long before I even knew who Judy Holliday was, probably through the occasional vocal impersonation on Warner Brothers cartoons and the like. And when I finally saw Born Yesterday as a kid gobbling up movie history (I was probably 12 or 13), I fell in love with her as a performer. I loved not only with her slightly goofy beauty, and of course the strangulated, slightly fazed sound of the words as they fought their way out of her mouth, but I also found it endearing and, I guess, kinda sexy the way her intelligence slowly emerged and became more important than the way she filled out that closet full of gangster moll couture. Later, as an adult, I still loved Judy Holliday, but when I saw the movie again it seemed rather prosaic, especially situated in the oeuvre of the man (Howard Hawks) who directed Twentieth Century, Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday. And as much as I loved Holliday’s performance, I’ve never quite forgiven the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences for lacking the self-awareness to honor Bette Davis’ lacerating work as Margo Channing in All About Eve or, even more egregiously, overlooking Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. In 1950, Oscar overlooked (or was it punished?) one of the most devastating one-two punches in movie acting history, perhaps because the punches landed too close to home, and gave the gold instead to the busty, good-natured blonde who looked even sexier with glasses and a brain. No, I’ve never quite forgiven the Academy for this upset, but somehow I’ve never been able to hold it against Judy Holliday. So when I found this great picture of Holliday holding her Oscar, looking like she could have just as easily been one of my mom’s friends circa 1965 as she was a Broadway star and Oscar-winning movie actress, I couldn’t resist using it as the lead-off image for my last Oscar post on the 2006 Academy Awards. She doesn’t look like she stole anything, does she? She looks like she deserved it.

I wonder, will Penelope Cruz feel the same way Monday morning when she wakes up clutching her little golden man?

Wait for it… Wait for it… Gotcha! Just kidding! Ms. Cruz, as dynamically sexy as she looks with hair piled up over hoop earrings, in a skirt and a cotton blouse to better accentuate her ample bosom, and a kitchen apron, need not worry about rehearsing an acceptance speech. Kate Winslet can relax too. Meryl, nice of you to come. And Dame Judi, even though you’re the only one with a hairsbreadth of a chance among the four of taking the stage to do anything more than announce the Best Film Editing nominees, better to not get your hopes up. This is the year of Mirren. Helen Mirren. Why, there hasn’t been this big of a lock since Dewey defeated Truman… Er… okay, Dame Judi, draft a speech just in case, but still, don’t get your hopes up. Any kind of upset here is likely to knock the Earth (or that tiny portion of it on the corner of Hollywood and Highland, anyway) right off its axis and send us all hurtling straight into the sun, and we know that kind of thing only happens in splashy Hollywood blockbusters, certainly not in the kind of quiet, microbudgeted British or indie movie that tends to steal Oscar thunder from the boffo b.o. of its bloated American brethren.

This year’s Academy Awards will have its upset, all right, but not in this category. And I’ll get to that in a moment. First, my wife, she who shuns any violence that would not be appropriate for a Disney straight-to-video Cinderella sequel, played a little last-minute Oscar catch-up by sitting down to watch The Departed last night. She’d already been primed for the movie’s heavy spraying of head-wound marinara sauce when I spun the DVD a couple of weeks ago—DiCaprio’s wielding a hat rack on an unsuspecting goombah, or Ray Winstone rearranging DiCaprio’s arm cast made much more of an impression on her sensibilities. She found the first hour and a half of little use as drama or anything else. There was lots of derision directed toward the movie’s structure—“People keep having the same conversation over and over again!”—and Scorsese’s choice of music—she decided that “Gimme Shelter” should be permanently retired from any movie and wondered how the Dropkick Murphys, being a band formed in 1996 and having nothing to do with Scorsese’s favored ‘70s-and-older pop milieu, ever made the cut. (I think it was that accordion riff, definitely.) But she liked the last hour a lot—“It picked up the kind of steam I was hoping for, whereas the first hour and a half just laid there.” One interesting observation she made was that, for a movie being touted as a return to form (and I think we can all agree that’s a fairly specious notion in itself), The Departed didn’t seem particularly Scorsesean to her, meaning that it lacked the fire, the intensity, and even the wealth of stylistic flourishes that she associates with a “real” Scorsese picture. I’m not sure that I agree—to my eye, it looked plenty like a movie made by Martin Scorsese—but what I think she was getting at is that it seemed more like assignment work to her (she didn’t say hack work). And she made another interesting observation that perhaps so many people have either appropriated or absorbed Scorsese’s basic approach to cinema and devalued it to whatever degree that even the man himself doesn’t necessarily stand out as himself anymore. Whether you buy that last part or not (I haven’t decided yet), I was grateful that she sat down with a movie she wouldn’t normally be attracted to and hashed it out with me for a while. She provided something thoughtful to chew on in these last few hours remaining of Scorsese’s status as an Oscar-less film director.

Cartoon by Peet Gelderblom--There's more sharp cartoon work and excellent film commentary available on his blog Lost In Negative Space. Peet will be staying up all night in the Netherlands watching the Oscars live. Have you gotten that case of Red Bull I sent you yet, Mr. Gelderblom?

Right now, like you, I want to spend a bit of time in the back of the auditorium. Yes, I’m one of those hopeless Oscar nerds who actually find the below-the-line nominations something more than just filler in between Beyonce costume changes and snappy Ellen DeGeneres one-liners. I shush the room when the winner of Best Sound Editing suddenly can’t be heard over amped-up chitter-chatter and the crunching of potato chips. And I get annoyed when publications like Entertainment Weekly imply, in their snarky way, that these nominations are somehow less important that the same four or five “major” categories over which everyone (including you and I, I suppose) maddeningly obsesses. I’d wager the prospect of winning an Oscar is likely pretty damned important indeed to Patricia Field, who designed the nominated costumes for The Devil Wears Prada, or to Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon, whose The Blood of Yingzhou District is one of four movies that could be named Best Documentary Short Subject.

I wish I had something meaningful to add to the conversation about that category, or the animated and live action shorts, but I haven’t had the opportunity to see any of them, so I don’t. (This presumes, of course, that anything else I’ve had to say was in any way meaningful, but I’d rather not cross that rickety bridge right now—remember, this article is for entertainment purposes only!) But the Best Documentary category is, for the first time in a good, long while, populated by recognizable titles that more than just a few Oscar voters have actually seen. It is a damned shame that When the Levees Broke wasn’t eligible, and I wonder why Spike Lee didn’t do for this film what he did for Four Little Girls (which was nominated) and arrange for some theatrical screenings before sending it to HBO. Was he afraid of being accused of pandering to the Academy? Seems unlikely. That said, as much as I’d like to see Iraq in Fragments take this honor, the prospect of seeing Al Gore on stage will be too much catnip for Oscar to resist, even harder than it has been for practically every journalist and blogger who has written about it thus far to resist talking about how Al Gore could be an Oscar winner come Sunday night. Al Gore did not direct An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim did), nor is he listed among the film’s 10 (!) credited producers. Gore’s convincing case against global warning may receive Oscar’s biggest endorsement Sunday, but Al Gore himself will have nothing new for the fireplace mantle, unless, of course, he borrows Guggenheim’s statue for a weekend.

A lot of people like Germany’s The Lives of Others, but I think the fact that Pan’s Labyrinth has six nominations— more than any other movie except Babel and Dreamgirls-- speaks volumes about its chances in the Best Foreign Language Film category. It has more than a shot in the technical categories in which it is nominated, but this is, I think, the only sure thing for Del Toro’s grim fantasia.

Best Visual Effects is often (but not always) the category where the biggest blockbuster gets the nod, often because the effects are the only thing worth noting about the movie in question. It’s hard to argue that that isn’t the case this year, where Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest will likely muscle its way to the top through sheer overkill, in just the manner that it swamped the box office this year. I wish the award could go to Superman Returns for that plane sequence alone—I love the way the fuselage of the plane ripples against gravity when Supey stops it from landing on the pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium. (Whew! Finally, there’s that pesky baseball reference! Jeez, TLRHB, I’m embarrassed too!) But for perversity’s sake, I’m pulling for Poseidon, just to spite everybody who smelled blood in the box-office water and insisted, against all evidence to the contrary, that the effects in the movie were somehow bad.

Best Sound (or as it is known now, Sound Mixing) is usually the award that goes to the movie with the loudest THX-enhanced explosions and/or showiest music, so look for Pirates to reign supreme here as well. Best Sound Editing, on the other hand, has subtler criteria—it’s more about how innovatively the sound is put to use, or how well created or enhanced sound is integrated with existing, or wild, soundtracks to create an audio collage that complements or bolsters the visual design of the movie. Bird won its only Oscar in this category for the innovative way in which existing Charlie Parker solos were integrated with new recordings performed by the musicians who appeared in the film. I always eye the most subtle achiever here, and remembering Bird, I’m picking Letters from Iwo Jima to be named inside the envelope. It may be the only Oscar this Clint Eastwood movie wins as well.

We’ve already talked about (trashed) Best Original Song, but I’ll reiterate: An Inconvenient Truth is a non-factor here, all three Dreamgirls tunes will be shown the door, and Randy Newman will win Best Original Song for the second time, for “Your Town” from Cars. This time it’ll be for a song that deserves to win. As for Best Original Score, Babel’s guitar noodling seems like an afterthought, and Philip Glass’s score for Notes on a Scandal finds the composer in his bullying, insistent mode—Glass is a bizarre choice and a major distraction in a movie that would have been better served by a much more subtle score. Alexandre Desplat is a composer who has done great work, for Jonathan Glazer’s Birth, and he’ll be nominated many more times in the future, I suspect. His work for The Queen is serviceable, if unmemorable. And Thomas Newman’s score for The Good German I have not heard. No matter: I think the winner will be Javier Navarette and the haunting themes from Pan’s Labyrinth.

And your can rack up a third Oscar for Pan’s Labyrinth in the Best Makeup category. Remember that Earth-spinning-off-its-axis theory? Apply that to an Adam Sandler movie winning anything. Ever. Apocalypto has a shot, but the kinds of full-body applications that comprise the make-up designs in Pan’s Labyrinth are precisely the kind of work in which the category is rooted— work like Rick Baker’s An American Werewolf in London and Ed Wood, or Chris Walas’s in The Fly. At the center of the labyrinth is yet another Oscar.

Best Film Editing is a category whose winner is often linked to the name called out for Best Picture. Anyone not talking or crunching their potato chips too loudly when Hughes Winsome picked up the Film Editing award last year for Crash were probably among those who weren’t completely floored when Crash ended up winning Best Picture. But only the year before, Thelma Schoonmaker won an Oscar for editing The Aviator, which got the Scorsese contingent all lathered up mid-ceremony, anticipating a win for Best Picture, if not best Director. Then Million Dollar Baby swept in for Best Picture and gummed up the odds on the whole previously-sure-bet Editing-Picture connection. So though three of the nominees in this category don’t have corollaries in the Picture category, no movie can be counted out except maybe Blood Diamond, which has little heat behind it in any category. Babel is an attention-getter here for all it’s time-and-place trickery, and The Departed is sharp overall, but that whole police psychiatrist subplot could have been cinched up and made the whole movie feel leaner. Personally, I might choose Children of men, only because a long shot can be made even more powerful if it starts and ends at the right moment, and Children of Men has a swiftness, an immediacy that’s due to the strength and lack of ostentation in the way it is edited. In the end, though, TLRHB, I agree with you—I think this is going to be the place in the evening where the Academy will neatly choose to acknowledge the emotional impact of United 93.

Marie Antoinette is the obvious candidate, based on precedent, to take home the Oscar for Best Costume Design, though the movie’s teenage mallrat sensibility and obsession with fashion, not at all the crushing liability the movie’s detractors claimed, is it’s true raison d’etre, not history. (The movie is so posh and laid back in practically sinks into that gigantic bed Marie is so loath to jump out of every morning and disappears.) And each shot of Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower is an orgasm of stunning clothing (and art direction, and set decoration) that successfully assumes all the viewer interest that the minor-key soap opera plotting cannot. (Seeing Flower so close to Volver, I found myself trapped in a variation of Pauline Kael’s “Who’s worse—Ali McGraw or Candice Bergen?” argument—based on the clothing and design of the movie, and how is woman is photographed, who is the most beautiful woman in the movies right now, Gong Li or Penelope Cruz? The answer: Whoever you’re watching at the time.) But something tells me that Oscar will go industry-savvy this year and present the award to the movie about fashion-- The Devil Wears Prada.

Interesting too is the fact that there is no overlap this year between nominees in the Costume and Art Direction categories. How Marie Antoinette and Curse of the Golden Flower could be overlooked here is perhaps the biggest mystery of all. I haven’t seen The Good Shepherd yet, though what you say about it makes me even sadder that I missed it on the big screen. As for Dreamgirls, am I the only one who felt this movie was a tad on the tacky side, in terms of the art direction and sets? Certainly everything wasn’t mean to look prefab and cheesy, was it? Pirates is big-budget Disneyland and hence of very little interest—well-mounted, but not standout work. And The Prestige, in it’s depiction of a rough-edged London bearing down on bearing in from all sides on its protagonists, is indeed superb. But here I’d like to suggest that the world of Pan’s Labyrinth, the seductive, razor-thin distance between the darkness of reality and the darker realms of fantasy, will bring the movie its fourth Oscar. I think it’s entirely possible than the movie will end up, in terms of amount of wins, the story of the night, the de facto best picture of the year no matter who wins the actual award.

I think the Best Cinematography category is notable this year not only for the fact that not one of the nominated films is also nominated for Best Picture (a rare phenomenon), but also that there are no egregious inclusions among the nominees among the five—each one of the candidates deserves recognition. Of the two magician movies, The Illusionist has much more of that gas lamp glow associated with portrayals of the 18th century and, while beautiful, seems slightly more routine than Wally Pfister’s ominous, claustrophobic and at times unexpectedly, eerily beautiful work in The Prestige. (I’m thinking of the visit to Tesla’s compound and not only the field of electric bulbs lighting up the winter landscape, but also how, textured into the near black of the background, all the lights in the town visible below, dim out as the bulbs are illuminated.) The Black Dahlia is gorgeously lit with, appropriately enough, an exceptional sensitivity to the shadows within the frame, and Vilmos Zsigmond, a formidable force himself, may benefit from the visual storytelling strategies cooked up in collaboration with director Brian De Palma, even in what I consider, generously, to be minor key De Palma. Pan’s Labyrinth is sumptuously dark too, and the dark greens and browns of its forest of the imagination couldn’t have been more profoundly realized by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. But this is Emmanuel Lubezski’s category—the vivid, deep-focus, you-are-there clarity of even the most routine master shot in Children of Men (if there is such a thing) is memorable. But those long action takes (the first of which, involving the escape by car from a roadblock and the unexpected death of one of the passengers, wholly achieves the status of an irreproachably classic sequence) are making the waves. Look for the movie’s lone moment of recognition to come here.

If my welcome hasn’t already worn out, I sense it surely will soon, so a swift pass through the “major” categories and then all that’s left is the waiting. Best Adapted Screenplay looks like a lock for William Monahan and The Departed. Children of Men is looked upon, even by many who admire it, as primarily a technical achievement, and it will have already nabbed Best Cinematography. Notes on a Scandal’s chances are entirely dependent on Judi Dench. If she misses, this movie is a shut-out. Little Children might have a chance if it were a strongr presence in the directing or picture categories. And Borat is looked at by many as a scriptless stunt, a largely improvised piece o performance art. For sheer perversity, it might get my vote. But the Academy’s will go to The Departed.

All of the other Best Picture nominees are corralled in the Best Original Screenplay department. If Pan’s Labyrinth pulls one of the evening’s three possible major upsets, it means a virtual lock for The Departed as Best Picture. But a win for any of the other four and the water is still too muddy to call with any surety. If either Babel, The Queen or Letters from Iwo Jima could claim a victory here and set up a classic Director/Picture on the order of 2005’s Brokeback Mountain/Crash split. If Little Miss Sunshine were to win, The Departed’s chance for a victory increases, because in Academy history only three times has a Best Picture winner ever taken the top spot without its director being nominated, which would seem to make the bright Sunshine an instant dark horse. On merit, I’d choose Letters from Iwo Jima. The Academy will disagree with me and crown The Queen.

The effects of a backlash will not be strong enough to derail the one genuine phenomenon to arise from the Phoenician ashes of the Oscar front-runner/also-ran known as Dreamgirls, and that is the strength of Jennifer Hudson’s screen presence as Effie, a dream, indeed, of Florence Ballard’s tragedy reimagined as Broadway, and Hollywood, redemption. After seeing the otherwise shoddy Dreamgirls, a lump swelled in my throat when the credit “And introducing Jennifer Hudson” came up, and so did all the wonderful emotions of the performance I’d just seen. They were good enough to nullify the indifference I felt toward the rest of the movie, and that was good enough for me. And so shall it be with the Academy. I’m hoping Norbit will blow a hole in the enthusiasm for Eddie Murphy’s celebrated turn as the James Brown-Marvin Gaye stand-in in Dreamgirls. It’s a celebration by rote, to be sure, for a standard comic actor ploy—if you’ve made people laugh in the past, all you have to do to get people to notice you is frown a lot. Well, Murphy frowns a lot in Dreamgirls, and it ay just get him the Oscar he should have not only been nominated for, but received, for The Nutty Professor. Which would be a shame, but no real big news, I guess. My heart says Mark Wahlberg, and I think there’s a possibility fo an upset here, but my head says Murphy all the way.

We’ve talked about Helen Mirren, who we both think is as sure a thing as the sunrise and/or Rush Limbaugh’s inability to make sense on a daily basis. We both think Cars is a shoo-in for Best Animated Feature. But what about Best Actor? You’re backing the big dictator, Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin. And I was too, until I saw Peter O’Toole in Venus. O’Toole instantly became my choice. And over the past few weeks, the way he’s playing the media, and the way his very presence is stirring up memories of his great performances (Becket played here in L.A. theatrically while Oscar ballots were still out), I think he may be the Academy’s choice too. I’m going out on my biggest, perhaps shakiest limb of the evening here, TLRHB: I think Peter O’Toole is going to join the company of Paul Newman, who won a competitive Oscar after being given a Lifetime Achievement Award. You might be able to call me silly on Monday, but here it is, Saturday, and I’m telling you that your dreams of an Oscared reunion of the stars of Caligula is going to come true. Helen Mirren will win Best Actress for The Queen, and Peter O’Toole will win Best Actor for Venus over Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland.

And remember how I picked Babel as the Best Picture winner in my first post? Well, I changed my mind. You’ve convinced me. The Departed will win.

Here are my predictions in an easily digestible format (why didn't I think of this 3,000 words ago, my suffering friend?):

Picture: The Departed
Director: Martin Scorsese
Actor: Peter O’Toole
Actress: Helen Mirren
Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson
Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy
Original Screenplay: The Queen
Adapted Screenplay: The Departed
Animated Film: Cars
Art Direction: Pan’s Labyrinth
Cinematography: Children of Men
Costume Design: The Devil Wears Prada
Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth
Film Editing: United 93
Foreign Language Film: Pan’s Labyrinth
Makeup: Pan’s Labyrinth
Musical Score: Pan’s Labyrinth
Song: “Your Town” from Cars
Sound Editing: Letters from Iwo Jima
Sound Mixing: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Visual Effects: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

My friend, this has been, as Jason Mewes might say, tons of fun. I only hope our readers thought so too. When that flying saucer-sized pizza arrives, I will indeed dedicate the first slice to you and your family, all of whom I hope to actually meet someday. (Oscar party at my house next year?) And I accept your modest proposal: let’s think of another reason to do this again real soon, and maybe rope some of our other critically minded blogger friends into joining in too. Just in case I failed to make it evident before, let me reiterate how honored I have been to spend time in your company this week making far too much hash out of something that, in the long run, means not a hell of a lot. But if having fun writing means anything, then this has been a meaningful week indeed, for me, for you too, I suspect, and I sincerely hope for everyone who has read and followed us thus far.

Now on to the Kodak Theater, and Oscar pool victory!


*** For further reading, as if you don’t have anything else to do, here’s Steve Erickson on the Man Who Should Have Been Nominated, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Jim Emerson, who has a clip guaranteed to get you in the mood for Oscar night! Also, a couple of additions to the Ennio Morricone stack: K. Lindbergs has a great article over at her thankfully resuscitated Cinebeats site. She knows a lot about a lot, especially lesser-known Morricone, and she's very strong on his many giallo scores. It's great to have K. back in full force. And Peet Gelderblom points out old friend Robert Cumbow's review of the New York City Morricone concert over at GreenCine Daily. Thanks, K. and Peet and Robert for making our Morricone education that much more complete!

Also, SLIFR pal Sal Gomez points out a last minute Oscar Predictions Contest over at that is easy, fun and potentially profitable-- you could win a video iPod! But you have to get your predictions in to the site before 6:00 EST-- that's 3:00 p.m. for those of us on the West Coast. As of this wrting, that gives you four precious hours. I threw in the predictions I made above just to see what happens. Do you dare?!

Finally, just so we know everyone has their priorities nice and straight, tech expert Philip Swann has issued a red-alert warning of major newsworthiness to Hollywood celebrities attending tonight's ceremonies regarding the truth-telling effects of HDTV. Swann says, "In HD, it's easy to see why Brad Pitt left Jennifer (Aniston) for Jolie. She has beautiful, sparkling blue eyes and full lips. (And Catherine Zeta-Jones), the star of Chicago and Traffic, is absolutely gorgeous and it shows. Pity the aging Michael Douglas when he has to stand beside her in the HD broadcast of the awards show."

Good night, and good luck.