BREAKING NEWS: The Oscar nominees!

THE SAMUEL GOLDWYN THEATER, HOLLYWOOD — The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced its nominations for the 2011 Oscars this morning, and most of the major predicted contenders ended up on the finals list, with Hugo leading the pack with 11 and The Artist a close second with10 nominations.

Among the nominees with gay-interest are The  Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for best actress Rooney Mara as a bisexual hacker, Midnight in Paris for Woody Allen and Beginners (supporting actor nominee Christopher Plummer seems a lock to win).

Some surprises included a best picture nomination for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Demian Bichir for A Better Life and to a lesser extent Nick Nolte in Warrior and Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, which also got a best screenplay nod. Other surprises were among the omissions, including no noms for Shame or The Descendants‘ Shailene Woodley.

Here are the nominees in the major categories.

PictureThe Artist; The Descendants; Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseThe Help; Hugo; Midnight in Paris; MoneyballThe Tree of Life; War Horse.

Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Martin Scorsese, Hugo; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life.

Actor: Demian Bichir, A Better Life; George Clooney, The Descendants; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Brad Pitt, Moneyball.

Actress: Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn.

Supporting Actor: Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn; Jonah Hill, Moneyball; Nick Nolte, Warrior; Christopher Plummer, Beginners; Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Supporting Actress: Berenice Bejo, The Artist; Jessica Chastain, The Help; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids; Janet McTeerAlbert Nobbs; Octavia Spencer, The Help.

—  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

Came art

‘Shame,’ British artist Steve McQueen’s intense look at a sex addict, delves into the dark

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LET’S GET LOST | A sex addict (Michael Fassbender, right) deals with his disturbed sister (Carey Mulligan, left) in the provocatively sexual drama ‘Shame.’

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

For the first 20 minutes or so of Shame, the first NC-17-rated movie to get a legit theatrical release in awhile, not much happens — or rather, not much is said. We don’t even know that the man we are following (Michael Fassbender) is named Brandon. (We do, however, know he has a big wiener — there’s lots of full-frontal here.) We just know that he has a lot of sex. A lot. And not with the same women, or even the same kind of woman. He targets various races ages and types. We hear repeated voicemails from one woman he seems to have bedded and ignored; he pays for a call girl; he flirts with a married lady on a commuter train; he even jerks off alone in the shower. He doesn’t seem to discriminate, or even know anything about self-control.

But Brandon falls in a weird netherworld between contemptible cad and admirably effective womanizer. He doesn’t share much about his personal life, and his face doesn’t reveal much. When a business colleague uses a string of come-on lines to seduce a woman at a bar, Brandon stands back like an old panther, waiting for the eager cub to annoy the gazelle before he subtly strikes. The woman sees it coming. He isn’t a jerk, just sexually charismatic. He has patience.

At least he does until his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up. Their relationship is complex and disturbing (we first see Sissy, as Brandon does, fully naked in his shower) but we never fully know its details. She seems to show up out of nowhere every so often, this time as a Marilyn-esque torch singer whose performance hypnotizes the bar’s patrons and the movie audience as well.

Indeed, “hypnotic” seems like the perfect word to describe Shame’s overall aesthetic. The writer-director, British artist Steve McQueen (no relation; he also made the gay-themed short Bear), uses blank cityscapes and cold, Edward Hopper-esque shots composed to suggest the deep-seated alienation of Brandon — and, by extension, all of us.

The intense, sterile interiors and scenes of everyday life — one reason we see Fassbender naked so much is he wanders from bedroom to toilet, takes a piss and brushes his teeth with the same routine we all do — make it resonate. McQueen has made a story that’s entirely specific yet universal, even as it makes us uncomfortable at its forced intimacy. It oozes desperation.

McQueen’s visual style is deceptive. One scene — the only honest “date” Brandon has in the movie, a dinner with a co-worker he’s been flirting with — is a single take, the camera largely static; another is an immense tracking shot, following Brandon on a jog through the streets of New York. The technique is dazzling but still doesn’t draw attention to itself. He’s a jumble of what works, moment to moment.

And virtually all of it works. Fassbender, cool as the back side of the pillow, plays brilliantly off of Mulligan’s frenetically unstable Sissy, as well as the emptiness of Brandon’s life. He’s chilling, and devastating as he undergoes painful self-examination.

The dark sexuality is the frankest since Blue Velvet, but it also sends mixed signals. A scene late in the film where Brandon crosses the last frontier and explores his repressed homosexuality is as explicit as you’re likely to see in a theater, but it also suggests a last-gasp, the point at which Brandon’s “shame” finally overcomes him. Or is it saying that the guilt he feels over his sexual exploits are confined to the hetero world — that gay hardcore subculture gets it right, and shame is an antiquated, bourgeois emotion? The film is perhaps too impenetrable to reveal itself in that way. That’s a shame.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Get your freak on

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VIRTUALLY NORMAL | Xavier (James McAvoy, top) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) team up to fight a common enemy in the smart, savvy prequel ‘X-Men: First Class.’

Mutants-as-metaphors? The pro-gay message is unmistakable in ‘X-Men’

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

2011 is becoming the summer of supers. And it is a Marvel.

We’ve already had Thor, and before July is over, we’ll have Green Lantern and Captain America. But it will be remarkable if any manage to outdo X-Men: First Class. More than a kiddie version of an established franchise, this prequel has the scope of a Bond film and touches on serious issues like Nazi camps, nuclear annihilation and homophobia. First Class is that rarest of summer movies: A socially conscious superhero comic.

In 1944, pre-teens Erik Lensherr and Charles Xavier are leading vastly different lives. Charles lives in a castle on Long Island with his wealthy family, using his psychic powers to carve out an academic career. Meanwhile, Erik finds his ability to control metal with his mind is put to sick use by a Nazi doctor Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) while his family is butchered in a concentration camp.

Eighteen years later, Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender) team up, united in their efforts to stop Shaw (himself a mutant of intimidating power) from starting WWIII, in a sophisticated good cop/bad cop routine where they recruit new young mutants to join their cause.

The X-Men have been about outsiders not fitting in since the comics debuted in the 1960s, but it has been since the film series started in 2000 that the obvious parallels between mutant and gay have been most apparent. That’s true even in First Class, set long before the gay rights movement began.

“I didn’t mean to out you,” one character says to a secret mutant, who justifies not telling his boss by saying, “You didn’t ask, I didn’t tell.” “I’m not the only one who is different,” one confesses tearfully. There’s just no way that’s a coincidence.

Especially not with Matthew Vaughn directing. The last four X-Men movies have been directed by capable but quick-to-go-commercial directors, but Vaughn is a savvy, thoughtful director who composes more than he stages. Vaughn has an artist’s ethos, as he proved with his debut feature, Layer Cake, and demonstrated subsequently with the smart, edgy actioner Kick-Ass last year. His style oozes classic craftsmanship (one scene, set in a bar, generates incredible tension as Tarantino did in a similar set piece in Inglourious Basterds, though in an abbreviated version).

There’s an efficiency of storytelling, couched within the conventions of the superhero “origins” format, that’s admirable. It took George Lucas three full films to explain what circumstances made Darth Vader who he was; Vaughn does it in two hours. Of course, Lucas was hamstrung by having to use Hayden Christensen as the conduit for telling that story; First Class benefits from Fassbender’s sexy bravado as Magneto.

For the film — for the series — to work, you need to like Magneto a little to understand how he became a villain. Fassbender is sympathetic and reckless, and when he finally begins to believe in how the cause of mutants must supersede those of humanity, it’s difficult not to detect traces of Larry Kramer and ACT UP! in his passionate, separatist radicalism. It’s enough to make you wanna hold up a sign saying “Mutant and proud.”

Bacon is an unusual but effective choice as the supervillain, though January Jones, in a sexy, Bond-Girl-with-Balls cheesecake performance, more than holds her own.

Ultimately, it’s the message of being virtually normal — that is, redefining the baseline for what normal is — that makes the entire X-Men franchise resonate so strongly with modern, enlightened audiences. That’s especially true here. First Class is just that … in every sense.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas