The post-holiday/awards season dumping ground is upon us — just two films hit theaters this week, neither of which are likely to pique the interest of more discerning moviegoers.
The 82nd Academy Awards telecast is Sunday night. Will you be watching?
Yes, I will again succumb to its guilty pleasures, no doubt groaning every 10 minutes or so at the lavish, self-important nature of it all (please don’t let James Cameron win — the only thing worse than his creepy, flowing gray hair is the inevitably pompous speech that will spill from his lips if Avatar wins him a Best Director or Best Picture Oscar, which it likely will).
The worst summer movie season in memory gets a kick in the ass this week with the opening of a pair of small-scale, Sundance-approved art-house gems: the Duplass brothers' Cyrus, an unexpectedly touching, hilariously awkward comedy featuring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill in an odd love triangle of sorts, and Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, a tension-laced thriller that is likely to stand as young actress Jennifer Lawrence's breakout role.
I'm through bitching about how clueless the Academy is for overlooking my favorite films in favor of "geriatric coffeetable dogshit" (aka The Reader), as Christian Slater put it in True Romance. (To be fair, The Reader is slightly better than dogshit, mostly due to the presence of Kate Winslet.) Yes, I've finally accepted the Oscars for what it is: an industry wank-fest punctuated by a few moments of genuine spontaneity and/or emotion. Look for Slumdog Millionaire to clean up tonight despite not garnering a single acting nomination, which is almost unheard of for a Best Picture nominee. And look for an elaborately coiffed, sunglasses- and chain wallet-clad Mickey Rourke do something wonderfully eccentric while accepting the Best Actor Oscar.
The fall movie season has gotten off to a pretty mediocre start, and this week’s slate of new multiplex offerings does little to reverse the trend: a pair of ho-hum-looking sci-fi thrillers, Pandorum and Surrogates, and what looks to be a glossy remake of Fame, the 1980 movie musical that would serve as the senior play for yours truly many years later (I played Ralph Garcy.) Not coincidently, all three screened after our print deadline, typically a sign that they’re not ripe for much critical love.
This week’s new releases are a curious hodgepodge ranging from a big-budget studio retread (Fast & Furious) to an experimental feature by a 79-year-old enfant terrible (Pere Portabella's The Silence Before Bach, which opened in New York City more than a year ago). Lodged in-between is a pair of movies that debuted to mixed responses at the Sundance Film Festival (Sunshine Cleaning in 2008, Adventureland earlier this year), both of which feature strong casts and capable directors.
A pair of new books centering on film critic Pauline Kael — The Library of America's lavishly rendered The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael and Brian Kellow's incisive biography Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark — have resulted in an avalanche of recent Kael appraisals and reminiscences a decade after her death in 2001 and 20 years after her retirement from writing in 1991.
I can't quite remember when I became aware of Kael, but it had to be in my late teens, which is when I began to move beyond the Hollywood blockbusters of my youth and into deeper, more adventurous cinematic waters. I do know that my initial Kael exposure occurred after she had retired from The New Yorker, where she rather famously wrote film essays and reviews for nearly 25 years.