Say what you will, good or
bad , about Paul Thomas Anderson’s
“There Will Be Blood,” it at least has the positive effect of reawkening
interest in Sinclair Lewis’s [or Upton Sinclair's, as my non-addled mind now recognizes] largely forgotten 1927 novel, “Oil!” I don’t think many film critics,
though, have been drawn to read the 500+ page opus.
A few years back a perhaps over-generous local film critic
used to bug the crap out of his colleagues, myself included, by padding his “Ten
Best” list with “ties.” It got so we used to joke, somewhat mean-spiritedly, “so
and so’s ten best list this year only has 14 movies. What happened?” Very
petty. Why should we care?
I pondered this question again this Sunday after reading the “New York Times” critics “Ten Best”
Big surprise: the Screen Actors Guild would give four
to a scenery chewing (and spewing) film about a safe political topic directed
by a pompously outspoken actor in an election year. Makes for good awards
ceremony drama and fine thespian self congratulation.
But back to the opinions that matter, part II in the Boston
Phoenix critics best, worst and most overrated lists:
“Time” magazine’s Richard Corliss’s item “Do Film
Critics Know Anything?” is
the latest in whines from critics about how critics don’t know anything about
what people really like (ie: movies with promotion budgets above $50 million
opening in 5,000 theaters). One might well wonder if “Time” knows anything,
having named Vladimir Putin their “Man of the Year” for restoring “stability,”
presumably by removing such rowdy elements as the right to dissent and a free
The “Juno backlash” notwithstanding, the film’s screenwriter (what happened to director Jason
Reitman, who was so cool last year with his smug and reactionary “Thank You For
Smoking?”), self-promotional wunderkind Diablo Cody has been institutionalized
as cinema cool by such cutting edge journals as "Entertainment Weekly,"
where she now has a blog, and
Criterion, at whose website she has decreed her ten
best selections from that august DVD distributor’s portfolio.
I was lead to believe that the growingsuccess of “Juno” might
be curtailed by its failure to take any awards from the first handful of
critics groups meetings, including Boston, Los Angeles and New
York. Fat chance. The tide turned when groups such as
the Broadcast Film Critics Association gave
it three nominations and the Hollywood Foreign Press (you know -- The Golden
Globes) did likewise and in the same categories: Best Film (in the latter
case, Comedy or Musical), Best Screenplay and Best Actress.
The past week I’ve been “researching” a feature story I’m writing
on the “I Am Legend” mini-genre of Last Man on Earth flicks by watching
DVDs featuring plagues, cosmic
catastrophes, climactic disasters, devastating technological snafus, nuclear
warfare and, of course, rampaging zombies. I watched “Omega Man” again, with a
hip Charlton Heston, now senile NRA spokesman, blasting away at black-robed ghouls
with a tommy gun.
“Depressing,” unsentimental or subversive (ie: made for adults)
movies don’t win many awards or many fans back here in the USA, as a couple of recent news stories reminded me.
Here, it seems, taboos, conflicts and anxieties are more conspicuous
by their absence on screen than by frank and courageous confrontation and
When asked what he was looking for in a winning movie, the Jury President Jiri Menzel (director of the
great, bittersweet 1968 Czech New Wave classic “Closely Watched Trains”) said “I
hope to find a nice film about people." Sorry, wrong
festival. As noted below, what you’ll find here is a lot of alcoholism, child
abuse, intractable depression, violence against women, dead cats, faux cynicism, genuine
cynicism, corrupt officials and overall despair.
As it turned out we did have
Thanksgiving dinner in Thessaloniki.
The festival organizers were thoughtful enough to throw one for the Americans
in town, and so I was fortunate enough to have Turkey
in an Italian restaurant in Greece
with Danny Glover, John Sayles (John Malkovich had already left), numerous
Another Thanksgiving in a country without Thanksgiving.
Speaking of family get togethers, fathers are definitely taking a beating at this festival. In addition to the "Hamlet" mentioned before, several other films offer a dark view of paternity and the legacy of inherited evil. In "Vasermil," no dads are present, and good riddance ("Do you want to turn out like your father?).
Chances are John Malkovich might have been in a sour mood during his master class, the legions of statuesque female fans notwithstanding. At the ceremony where he received the Golden Alexander he thanked, among other worthies, British Airways for "helping me to evade my tendency to overdress by losing my luggage." Otherwise he seemed gracious and pleased by the encomia heaped on him by the presenters, who hailed his ability to merge into a role using various hairpieces, though they didn't mention any in particular or show any clips (ironically, they did screen "Being John Malkovich," in which he plays himself in the most solipsistically way possible).
Athens, being the cradle of Western civilization and all, might overshadow its northern rival, Thessaloniki. But the less touristy Thessaloniki is still the second largest city in Greece. Historically it's nothing to sneeze at, either, founded back in the 4th century BC by Cassander, one of the late Alexander's generals, who named it after his wife, the world conqueror's half sister, perhaps to make up for the fact that he murdered her mother to take over the throne.