Oscar 2012 recap

This was a good year for gays at the Oscars — at least on screen. Of the 20 characters whose portrayers were nominated for acting Oscars, five — Glenn Close, Janet McTeer, Rooney Mara, Kenneth Branagh (as bisexual Laurence Olivier) and Christopher Plummer — were members of the LGBT community. (I also have my suspicions about Jonah Hill’s character.) In the end, only one — Plummer — ended up in the winners’ circle, but it was a sweet victory nonetheless.

Onstage, Meryl Streep’s makeup artist seemed to be the only gay winner, though you can never tell about those sound mixers.

For those keeping track, I correctly picked seven of the top eight categories (missing only original screenplay), but the raft categories proved to be a crap-shoot: some very puzzling victories (for instance, Hugo for visual effects over the far superior achievements of Rise of the Planet of the Apes) muddled things.

Although both won five Oscars, in head-to-heads between The Artist and Hugo, The Artist came out ahead, beating Hugo for best picture, director, score and costumes. Hugo beat The Artist in direct competition for cinematography and art direction. Remarkably, neither of the frontrunners won for their screenplays, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the (happy) surprise winner for film editing.

See the list of last night’s winners after the jump:

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The Oscar race!

Need a jump on the office pool? We handicap the year’s likely nominees

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GAY FOR PLAY | Christopher Plummer (center), as a man who come out in his 70s, is a sure-bet for a best supporting actor Oscar nomination Tuesday.

The Academy Awards will announce their nominations on Tuesday morning … and I’ll be there. Yep, after years of writing about the Oscars, I’ll finally attend them (in part) while watching from the Academy auditorium as this year’s crop will be winnowed down to five (and for best picture, perhaps more) in each category.

And while some seem to be sure things, in some ways it’s a wide-open year. No one film, or even two or three, seem likely to dominate, the way last year’s The King’s Speech, The Social Network and True Grit did, or how Avatar and The Hurt Locker looked to dominate in 2009… and did.

Will The Help manage multiple acting nominees in addition to best picture and even director? Will the excellent Girl with the Dragon Tattoo surge near the end and get more than its lukewarm reception so far would indicate? Could Ghost Protocol actually surprise people? (The last seems unlikely, except in craft categories.)

There are some promising gay-interest nominees in addition to Tattoo: Shame, J. Edgar, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Beginners (Christopher Plummer seems a lock to win), even My Week with Marilyn.

Here then are my predictions in the major categories (listed roughly in their likelihood of being among the nominees).

And look on Instant Tea Tuesday or follow me on Twitter @ CriticalMassTX, where I’ll live tweet the experience at the Academy.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Picture (up to 10 nominees this year): The Artist; Hugo; The Descendants; The Help; Moneyball; Midnight in Paris; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Tree of Life; War Horse; Shame; Drive.

Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Martin Scorsese, Hugo; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Steve McQueen, Shame; Steven Spielberg, War Horse.

Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Brad Pitt, Moneyball; Michael Fassbender, Shame; Leonard DiCaprio, J. Edgar; Michael Shannon, Take Shelter; Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn; Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin; Charlize Theron, Young Adult.

Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners; Albert Brooks, Drive; Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn; Armie Hammer, J. Edgar; Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Jonah Hill, Moneyball; Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method; Patton Oswald, Young Adult; Jim Broadbent, The Iron Lady.

Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help; Berenice Bejo, The Artist; Carey Mulligan, Shame; Shailene Woodley, The Descendants; Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs; Judi Dench, My Week with Marilyn; Jessica Chastain, The Help; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids.

……………………..

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE:

Read Chris Azzopardi’s exclusive interview with likely Oscar nominee (and this week’s Golden Globe winner) Meryl Streep at DallasVoice.com/category/Screen, and read Instant Tea Tuesday morning as Arnold Wayne Jones live blogs about the nominations from Hollywood.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

2011 Year in Review: Movies

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INSANE FOR HUSSEIN | Dominic Cooper delivered the year’s most overlooked performance: A riveting dual role as Saddam Hussein’s gangsta son Uday and the doppelganger who impersonates him in ‘The Devil’s Double.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  
Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

It took awhile, but 2011 ended up being a decent year for movies, with Hollywood actually financing some edgy stuff and even giving some heft to their high-concept tentpole movies (four of the best entertainments — Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, X-Men: First Class and Mission Impossible 4 — superhero actioners).

10. Midnight in Paris. After years of middling (sometimes unwatchable) films, Woody Allen finally found his avatar in Owen Wilson with this, his best comedy since 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite.

9. Anonymous. A huge flop in the fall, audiences failed to connect with this thrilling (though highly fictionalized) riff on whether Shakespeare really wrote his plays. The premise was compellingly told, however, mixing action, a love of language, political savvy and romance in a satisfying way. Biggest surprise of all? Gay director Roland Emmerich of mindless action films like Godzilla and 10,000 B.C. was responsible. Maybe that’s what critics couldn’t get behind it.

8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Debate if you will the literary merits of Stieg Larsson’s rangy trilogy about a hacker and a journalist uniting to take down Fascists, but David Fincher’s thoughtful, well-paced thriller was faithful to the spirit of the book, while turning it into a cinematic mind-fuck of a movie, almost as bleak as his signature piece, Se7en.

7. Shame. British director Steve McQueen’s close-to-the-vest investigation of the modern male psyche was as unnerving to watch as it was captivating, delving into dark areas of sexuality with brilliant visual flourishes.

 

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MAID TO ORDER | Octavia Spencer, right, made ‘The Help’ one of the funniest and most poignant films of 2011.

6. Weekend. Two queer Brits spend a night together, but explore something more about the nature of gay relationships of today in this frank, compelling and sexy drama.

5. The Devil’s Double. Poor Dominic Cooper seems to have been all but forgotten by most critics, but his dual role as Uday Hussein and his body double was exciting and frightening, but also finely detailed — how many people get to play both the protagonist and the villain in the same movie? Vivid and energetic, this is the Scorsese film Scorsese should have made instead of the twee kid’s fantasy Hugo: It’s Goodfellas in the desert.

4. The Skin I Live In. Pedro Almodovar returned to great Hitchcockian form with this masterful mystery about a beautiful woman held captive by a perverse surgeon (Antonio Banderas). Layers upon layers are revealed on the way to a breathless, fantastical explanation, aided incalculably by Alberto Iglesias’ fantastic score — one of the best ever written for the screen.

3. The Tree of Life. It may sound like a cop-out, but Terry Malick’s tone poem of a film defies critical analysis. You simply allow yourself to be washed away by his experimental filmic mood shifts, or you resist. Giving over resulted in one of the dreamiest experiences I’ve ever had at the movies.

2. Beginners. Christopher Plummer gave perhaps the performance of the year, if not his career, as a septuagenarian who comes out and enjoys his final years embracing life. Mike Mills’ quasi-autobiographical film was humorous, poignant and delightfully quirky.

1. The Help. Along with Dragon Tattoo, writer-director Tate Taylor showed how to adapt a popular novel to the screen while retaining its literary merits and adding cinematic flair. One of the best shot movies of 2011, it was also exceptionally well-acted by the entire cast, but especially Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Whatcha watchin’?

Our guide to Christmas movies: ‘War Horse,’ ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

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‘War Horse’ opens Christmas Day.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

There’s something vaguely profane about opening War Horse on Christmas Day. True, it’s a heartwarming family film suitable to share with kids — Spielberg’s most gooily inoffensive film since E.T., in fact — but it’s also a movie where the main character is treated with the same reverence as the Christ Child. I mean that quite literally: From the moment his mare foals, people look at the Thoroughbred Joey with the awed humility of the Magi bestowing frankincense and myrrh.

War Horse, in fact, is so relentless in its nudging, reassuring you, This is a magical horse! This beast is special! Take your eyes off him at your peril!!! that it in fact loses almost all sense of genuine cinemagic. Imagine a comedian who spent more time telling you his jokes are the best and you’ll be wowed by how funny he is, and you approach the counterproductive quality of this movie.

That’s surprising, because if anyone knows how to make wonder seem affectingly cinematic, it’s Spielberg. The moment the scientists see the living dinosaurs roaming about Jurassic Park is justified because freakin’ dinosaurs are walking among us!!! But a maverick quadruped at a livestock auction deserves it? Spielberg is getting soft. This is the most inept heartstring-tugging he’s done since Always, one of his few genuine flops, both commercially and artistically. And for someone who directed one of the great war movies of the modern era (Saving Private Ryan), this one contains tamely mediocre battle scenes. It doesn’t need to be a hard R, but World War I should look at least as harrowing as Saving Private Ryan.

Still, it would be unfair to say War Horse has no merit. The reunion of boy and horse is memorably charming (Hey! You can’t seriously think I’m giving anything away), and Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is staggeringly beautiful and versatile (the finale looks like it was lifted right out of the climax of Gone with the Wind). And Joey — at least, the computer-generated version of him — conveys a lot with a glance of those big eyes. It says a lot when the best performance in a movie is from a 2,000-lb. beast, and Oprah’s nowhere to be found.

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Daniel Craig stars in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ now playing in wide release.

When Stieg Larsson’s first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, debuted, it captured imaginations because it was at once a typical example of genre-fiction — the set-up, a sort of locked-room mystery about a girl who disappeared from a remote Swedish island 40 years earlier, invoked a standard whounnit structure — but also a deeply detailed screed against… well, against a lot of shit Larsson felt passionately about. Corporate control. Violence against women. Personal privacy. Journalistic ethics. By the time you sorted all those things out, you had a novel so plump with plots and subplots, it felt more like Tolstoy than Turow.

The Swedish-language film version, while altogether serviceable, had a rocky time balancing those elements, but this territory is right up director David Fincher’s alley. His English-language remake is almost as bleak as his modern quasi-masterpiece, Se7en, but the topics and the tone? Pure Fincher.

He declares his own stylish mantra during the opening credits: Organic, abstract, even desultory and festishistic images to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ pulsating punk score establishes this as Fincher’s version of a Bond film. (It’s perhaps no coincidence the lead actor in the proposed trilogy is Bond himself, Daniel Craig.) Mechanical, urban, oppressive — welcome to the worlds of Larsson and Fincher.

But The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo doesn’t weigh on you so much as it assaults you with its brazenness. The girl, Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), is a waifish and strange bisexual, antisocial to the point of psychopathic. She is clever but not subtle and without traditional cultural mores, so she has no problem hacking into the computers of industrialists if it suits her.

She eventually teams up with a disgraced journalist, Mikael (Craig), hired by a rich businessman (Christopher Plummer) to solve the enigma of what happened to his great niece on that summer day in 1965. That investigation leads down rabbit holes that uncover a serial killer half a century in the making, fueled by religious fervor and a Fascist past.

The pacing of this version has an energy the Swedish version did not, and Fincher excels during several violent ballets: A subway mugging, a harrowing rape scene (two rapes actually, but that may be saying too much), a chamber of horror torture sequence. He and screenwriter Steven Zaillian also streamline the plot, balancing Larsson’s philosophizing with dramatic tension (though they do tip their hand too soon with one key plot point and rushing some others.

Mara does a lot with a little; her Lisbeth is emotionally stunted but she moves and thinks deftly — she would be at home with Tom Cruise on the next Mission: Impossible. Craig also plays it close to the vest expertly. But the star is really Fincher, whose visually fluidity make you crave the next installment, and the next. It’s like Harry Potter for cynics.

………………….

•online exclusive

For reviews of The Artist, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and A Dangerous Method, visit DallasVoice.com and click Screen.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

“Tinker”ing with a classic. One strategy: A cheat sheet for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

My full reviews of several movies — including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which has some sneak previews tonight and opens formally Wednesday — will be in the week’s print and online editions starting late tomorrow, but I wanted to give a head’s-up about one of the new releases: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This is a throw-back to the Cold War thrillers of the 1970s, both in tone, topic and look, but what’s really interesting (aside from a subtle gay subplot you should be on the lookout for) was something not on the screen, but in your hand.

At the press screening last night, attendees were presented a “dossier” (above), a slickly-produced fold-out intended “for your eyes only,” but really an almost-necessary cheat sheet to the plot of the damn thing! As any fans of John Le Carre know, Tinker, Tailor was originally produced as a seven-part miniseries in the late 1970s, which gave the labyrinthine plot room to breathe. The filmmakers do a good job concentrating on the major points and telling a complex but cogent story, but the existence of the dossier made me feel they didn’t really trust audiences to give themselves over and figure it out for themselves.

Or maybe they just didn’t trust critics. I’m not sure if the “dossier” will be available at all screening when it opens at the Angelika Friday, but let me know! It certainly is a fun little novelty if nothing else.

And until then, don’t miss Dragon Tattoo!!!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

And the winner is…

… Actually, the winners are. In a few different ways.

First, there are the nominees for the Golden Globe awards, which came out this morning. Among those in contention: Glenn Close and Janet McTeer for playing trans men in Albert Nobbs (look for a feature in Dallas Voice next week on that film), Leo DiCaprio for playing the gay FBI chief in J. Edgar, Kenneth Branagh for playing the bisexual Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn, Christopher Plummer for playing a gay man who comes out late in life in Beginners, Rooney Mara for playing the bisexual investigator in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jodie Foster as a mom in Carnage and Michael Fassbender as a sex addict in Shame. That’s a lot of gay for the Oscars… A lot of them are also winners of other awards from the National Board of Review, New York Film Critics and the Screen Actors Guild.

The other winner this week: Liz Mikel. I have to say, I take a little credit for being about the only local critic actually to like the world premiere of Lysistrata Jones (back when it was called Give It Up). Mikel was the only original cast member to move to the Broadway version, and the New York Times raved about the premiere last night, singling out Mikel for praise. Good for Liz, good for the Dallas Theater Center, good for everyone.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Liz Mikel actually isn’t the only Dallas cast member to make it to New York — Patti Murin, Lindsay Nicole Chambers and Katie Boren are also in the show.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Movie Monday: ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’

‘Hornet’s Nest,’ the final film in the Millennium Trilogy, is a talky, gloomy affair

If you haven’t read one of Stieg Larsson’s books in the Millennium Trilogy, centered on a bisexual, semi-autistic, tattooed Swedish computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), you’ve missed the literary event of the decade. Since they emerged, Larsson’s books have sold better worldwide than John Grisham and Stephen King.

If you haven’t seen one of the film versions, however, you’re not so bad off. So far, the three films — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and the latest, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — have been, at best, moderately entertaining disappointments. All are Swedish-made (American versions start coming out next year), and while the stories don’t require a Hollywood gloss to be interesting, they could use some punching up as movies.

Director Daniel Alfredson has created a style that’s gloomy but without a sense of moodiness. From the photography to the pacing of the courtroom scenes to the unsatisfying final moments, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest more closely resembles an installment in a rambling made-for-TV miniseries than a punchy feature film. Where’s the crescendo, the heart-racing action, the “big reveal?” Even a thinking man’s thriller can try to get the blood boiling. (Rapace, who had a steamy lesbian sex scene in Played with Fire, doesn’t have any sex this time — a definite hole in the structure.)

Hornet’s Nest really doesn’t stand alone, at least not as well as the other two. It’s a direct sequel to the second film, with Lisbeth recovering from injuries after she fought off her father, a Russian gangster who survived her attack. If any of that confuses you, it’s not much clearer watching it onscreen.

For more about the film, click here.

DEETS: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest with Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist. Rated R. 145 minutes. Now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

—  Rich Lopez

The Bjorn supremacy

‘Hornet’s Nest,’ the final film in the Millennium Trilogy, is a talky, gloomy affair

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

SWEDISH MEATBALLS  |  An assassin tries to kill muckraking journo Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, right) after bisexual hacker Lisbeth Salander ‘Kicks the Hornet’s Nest.’
SWEDISH MEATBALLS | An assassin tries to kill muckraking journo Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, right) after bisexual hacker Lisbeth Salander ‘Kicks the Hornet’s Nest.’

If you haven’t read one of Stieg Larsson’s books in the Millennium Trilogy, centered on a bisexual, semi-autistic, tattooed Swedish computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), you’ve missed the literary event of the decade. Since they emerged, Larsson’s books have sold better worldwide than John Grisham and Stephen King.

If you haven’t seen one of the film versions, however, you’re not so bad off. So far, the three films — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and the latest, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — have been, at best, moderately entertaining disappointments. All are Swedish-made (American versions start coming out next year), and while the stories don’t require a Hollywood gloss to be interesting, they could use some punching up as movies.

Director Daniel Alfredson has created a style that’s gloomy but without a sense of moodiness. From the photography to the pacing of the courtroom scenes to the unsatisfying final moments, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest more closely resembles an installment in a rambling made-for-TV miniseries than a punchy feature film. Where’s the crescendo, the heart-racing action, the “big reveal?” Even a thinking man’s thriller can try to get the blood boiling. (Rapace, who had a steamy lesbian sex scene in Played with Fire, doesn’t have any sex this time — a definite hole in the structure.)

Hornet’s Nest really doesn’t stand alone, at least not as well as the other two. It’s a direct sequel to the second film, with Lisbeth recovering from injuries after she fought off her father, a Russian gangster who survived her attack. If any of that confuses you, it’s not much clearer watching it onscreen.

All of Larsson’s books, and the movies from them, are concerned with social justice as much as crackling plots. And while set in Sweden, many of those issues feel influenced by American politics (although cultural differences, such as the legal system, make the story much harder to identify with): Creepy older men abound, all corrupt, conspiratorial doctors, policemen, lawyers, cops or politicians. It’s easy to tell the good buys from the bad guys — the only good guy is Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a crusading journalist out to uncover all the baddies targeting Lisbeth.

Nyqvist makes for an implacable, slightly dull leading man. When the first real action of the film comes 90 minutes in, his cred as an action hero starts to emerge, but it’s a little too late.

Almost more intriguing is Christer, the gay co-owner of the magazine Millennium, who is upstaged by Blomkvist even though he craves some action.

I know how he feels.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

The stillborn ultimatum

Even Angelina can’t spice up ‘Salt’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

GIRLS WITH GUNS | She may not have a dragon tattoo, but Salt shows men who’s boss.

1 out of 5 Stars
SALT
Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber,
Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Rated R. 100 mins.
Now playing in wide release

Peace dividends and human rights notwithstanding, the fall of the Soviet Union dealt a body blow to the espionage thriller. Russia was such a delicious, non-racially-charged enemy. Now, we only have bearded, dishdasha-wearing, Arabic-speaking villains. Their anger is fueled by religion, not politics. How dull is that? The Bourne movies (based on books written during the Cold War) do a good job of capturing the “spook” quality of the spy game, but how much shaky camerawork can one eyeball take?

Too bad the lone foray into old school espionage comes in the form of Salt. The Russians are back, supposedly with a deep undercover double agent, CIA operative Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie), planning to assassinate the Russian premier and start WWIII. Think No Way Out in heels. Think The Girls from Brazil.

I think not.

If it didn’t star an A-lister like Jolie, Salt would be a B-movie through-and-through; I can imagine Dolph Lundgren or, God help us, Pamela Anderson taking the lead and bringing zero personality to a film already desperate to find any identity.

The A-Team is supposed to be mindless summer entertainment; this movie imagines itself as something smarter, more political, more savvy about the real world. That’s established with the Cold War opening and the high-tech early scenes. But it quickly devolve into idiotic security missteps that would make a thinking citizen fear for our national safety — in the first 20 minutes, two potential terrorists escape from CIA headquarters. The reasons make no sense. None of it does.

Director Philip Noyce stages the action to seem awkward and silly, rather than crisp and exciting. Like Jason Bourne, Salt should be effortlessly resourceful, but instead merely trods through a series of improbabilities that work themselves out mechanically. Angelina’s last action orgasm, Wanted, at least was fun nonsense — this is just nonsense with a plot both contrived and completely lacking surprises. As in The Game, it takes an idea that could be joyously improbable and turns it into something utterly, insultingly unbelievable.

Jolie dressed in male drag is as close as the movie comes to comedy, though it’s not intended to be humorous. That says it all. Keep this Salt out of your diet — no one needs excess so-dumb.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 23, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas