And the Winner Is…

Film ReelWow! What a great year for movies.

On the eve of the Academy Awards, I’ve seen eight of the nine nominees for Best Picture.  (You can read my earlier posts here, here, and here.)  The only missing nominee?  That would be Quentin Tarantino’s Django UnchainedI saw Tarantino’s Inglourious Bastards with its similar fantasy-laden subject area and over-the-top, almost cartoonish violence a few years back, and I simply decided that Django wasn’t Best Picture quality in my book.  The fact that it is never mentioned in the top five contenders just confirms my decision.

But this afternoon, I saw another controversial – but much more substantive – movie, Zero Dark Thirty.   Despite the controversy surrounding the movie, I’m here to say that it works on many levels and deserves the consideration for Best Picture.  Jessica Chastain is a real force, carrying the movie forward with her fine acting.

In the end, however, I have to agree with Timothy Egan of the New York Times, who writes about the problems of  Zero Dark Thirty.  The lack of a larger context is – in the end – much more problematic than the torture scenes.

It’s not just the torture and its inherent message that young, attractive Americans got the ultimate payoff in part by doing what German bad guys used to do in the movies.

It’s the omissions. In “Zero Dark Thirty,” several larger truths — the many intelligence mistakes, the loss of focus and diversion of resources, and the fallout from the folly of the Iraq war — are missing. This is a crucial point, because the film is likely to end up as the most popular version of the singular trauma in the first decade of the 21st century.

Given that, the flawed movie is still worth watching and I recommend it.

So…it is time for the envelope.

Best Actor:  This seems the easiest of all the choices.  Daniel Day-Lewis so becomes Abraham Lincoln in a commanding performance, that all the others pale in comparison.

Best Actress:  There are three great nominees for this award, and I think it may be the most difficult.  As noted above, Jessica Chastain is terrific.  Emmanuelle Rive turns in such a wonderful performance in Amour. And I fell in love with Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook.  I think Lawrence will win, but I’d be happy with any of these three ladies.

Actor in a Supporting Role:  This category also features a great deal of talented actors.  Robert De Niro was outstanding in Silver Linings Playbook, a performance matched by Alan Arkin in Argo.  But I am betting on Tommy Lee Jones, whose Thaddeus Stevens came alive on the screen and held its own with Lewis’ Lincoln.

Actress in a Supporting Role:  The fan favorite is Anne Hathaway for her role in Les Mis, but I would give the award to Sally Field, who did a superb job with the very difficult Mary Todd Lincoln.

Best Picture:  The rumor mill has Argo as the winner.  And why wouldn’t Hollywood want to give the award to a film that has Hollywood coming to the rescue! I could live with that – it was a terrific movie. My favorite remains Lincoln, which was compelling and it had an important story to tell. I’d also be thrilled if Amour pulled off a surprise win.

Behind those three, I have Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook.  These five films were all very good-to-terrific. After that, they drop off for me, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Life of Pi or Les Mis.  In any event, here’s my final list:

1. Lincoln

2. Amour

2A. Argo

3. Zero Dark Thirty

4. Silver Linings Playbook

5. Life of Pi

6. Les Mis

7. Beasts of the Southern Wild

8. Django Unchained

It has also been fun to read other predictions, perhaps the most interesting coming from Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight blog.

So let’s sit back tomorrow night, and see what the evening brings. Bring on the popcorn!

More to come…

DJB

Amour Enters the Conversation

Film ReelAs we enter the homestretch of the quest to see all the Best Picture nominees, Candice and I are now through seven of the nine pictures…and the plot thickens.  That’s because today we had the opportunity to see the achingly sad yet well crafted French movie Amour.

Candice and I had the afternoon free here in Southern California between a swim meet, lunch with Claire, and dinner with Claire’s swim team members, coaches, and parents.  We found that Amour was playing nearby, and took the chance to see this gem of a picture.

The movie, about an elderly pair of music teachers and their life together after the wife suffers a stroke, hit so many deep emotions – many of them close to home.  There was less action in the entire movie than what I expect to see in five minutes of Django Unchained, but the emotional depths that are plumed are raw and rich.

Emmanuelle Riva is wonderful as Anne, the wife, and well deserving of a Best Actress award this year.  She was beautiful and vulnerable and so much more.  People talked about crying through Les Mis…well, for my money Amour is a much better film and truly worthy of the tears that come at the end.

So, I have a bit of a shake-up in my list now, having seen 7 of the 9 nominees.  Lincoln is still my top choice, but I have Amour just edging out Argo – perhaps a 2 and 2A selection.  Here’s how the list looks now:

1. Lincoln

2. Amour

2A. Argo

3. Silver Linings Playbook

4. Life of Pi

5. Les Mis

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Like me, Candice’s list saw a shake-up as she also ranked Amour second.  Her list:

1. Lincoln

2. Amour

3. Les Mis

4. Argo

5. Silver Linings Playbook

6. Life of Pi

7. Beasts of the Southern Wild

We’re only a few days out.  I’m going to try to see Zero Dark Thirty at a minimum before the night of the show.  Until then, feel free to give me your thoughts – or your list – in the comments section below.

More to come…

DJB

Fine Fiddling in Southern California

Richard Greene and Tom SauberWhen I signed up for family weekend at Claire’s college, I didn’t go expecting to have my bluegrass itch scratched.  Yes, Claremont has a wonderful Folk Music Center in the heart of the village, but I generally have time for one quick stop to play an instrument or two between all the sessions lined up for the parents.

So imagine my surprise when I was reading the events for family weekend, and there – on Friday night – was an evening of “Bluegrass and Old-Time Music” with fiddler Richard Greene.

Wow!  Richard Greene is a fiddle god – one of those west coast players who paid his bluegrass dues in Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in the 1960s, yet expanded the genre with the help of David Grisman, Clarence White, and so many others. I’ve been listening to his music since the early 1970s, yet had never seen him live.

So with Candice and Ella, one of Claire’s good friends at school who is – who knew it – a bluegrass fan (her already high stock with me just soared!) we found our way to Bridges Music Hall for a night of fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and guitar music.  (As an aside, the venue once again proves my point that the most beautiful building on many a college campus is the old chapel.)

Greene was playing with traditional musician Tom Sauber and Pomona professor Joti Rockwell in what felt like a living room concert for 600 people.  The laid back nature of the setting didn’t diminish the fine musicianship throughout the evening.  Sauber and Rockwell were first class players who carried the vocal duties, provided the rhythm setting, and added tasteful solo touches throughout.  Greene was as amazing as advertised, down to the final flourishes as he wrapped up beautiful traditional tunes such as Bill Monroe’s The Kentucky Waltz.

Highlights for me included Greene’s solo  musings on Northern White Clouds, the Monroe Brothers’ version of Nine Pound Hammer, and the fine Kessinger Brothers’ encore Wednesday Night Waltz.  Greene’s exploration of the old hymn Amazing Grace – retitled Amazing Graces – was a wonderful ending to the show.  He said, “It’s my best song” – and he may have been right.  I’ve included a video below so you can be the judge.

Nothing like an unexpected treat to close out a day.

More to come…

DJB

My Personal Preseason

BaseballThis is my second installment of the things I do to get ready for the baseball season…which is necessary because pitchers and catchers report tomorrow.

Why’s he calling me meat?  I’m the one driving a Porsche.

Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.

The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self awareness.

You just got lesson number one: don’t think; it can only hurt the ball club.

You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: “We gotta play it one day at a time.”

Man that ball got outta here in a hurry. I mean anything travels that far oughta have a damn stewardess on it, don’t you think?

(Nuke) I ain’t pissing nothing away. I got a Porsche already; a 911 with a quadrophonic Blaupunkt. (Crash) Christ, you don’t need a quadrophonic Blaupunkt! What you need is a curveball! In the show, everyone can hit heat.

(Larry) Excuse me, but what the hell’s going on out here?  (Crash) Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man’s here. We need a live… is it a live rooster? We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose’s glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present. Is that about right? We’re dealing with a lot of shit. (Larry) Okay, well, uh… candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she’s registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let’s get two! Go get ’em.

(Skip) Eight… and sixteen. How’d we ever win eight? (Larry) It’s a miracle.

Yep, friends.  The yearly preseason viewing of the best baseball movie ever, Bull Durham

A good friend of mine used to say, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” Think about that for a while.

More to come…

DJB

To the Movies (an Update)

Film ReelAlert readers have been waiting for an update on the Browns’ choices for Best Picture of 2013.  Well, wait no longer!

For others (who have better things to wait for) this is a follow-up post on our effort for the second year in a row to see all of the films nominated for Best Picture of the Year before the Oscars.

We’re now two-thirds of the way home, having just come from a showing of Silver Linings Playbook and having seen Argo last weekend.  These were two very good movies. I don’t think they’ll win Best Picture, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t take home awards in other categories.  Bradley Cooper was excellent in the lead of Playbook, and I think I’m in love with Jennifer Lawrence.  Robert De Niro was – well, he’s Robert De Niro.  (He wasn’t on the screen a minute when Candice – she of the maiden name Colando – turned to me and said, “This is SUCH an Italian family!”) Alan Arkin was also terrific in Argo (but both De Niro and Arkin have stiff competition from Tommy Lee Jones). I still believe  Daniel Day-Lewis takes home the Best Actor award and Lincoln is my favorite for Best Picture, but there have been some shake-ups below #1.

Here’s where I currently stand, with 6 out of 9 viewed:

1. Lincoln

2. Argo

3. Silver Linings Playbook

4. Life of Pi

5. Les Mis

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild

And where does Candice stand at the moment?

1. Lincoln

2. Les Mis

3. Argo

4. Silver Linings Playbook

5. Life of Pi

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild

We’re going to catch Amour online this week.  And while Candice has declared that she’s not watching the two violent ones – Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty, I’m still on the fence. Last year we made 8 out of 9, and I’d like to get to the finish line in 2013.

But there was one part of Silver Linings Playbook that I would give an Oscar to in a heartbeat.  For me, the attraction between Pat and Tiffany began to really simmer with the Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash duet of Girl from the North Country. I know they only give Oscars for best original music, but you can’t get more original voices than Dylan and Cash.  I love that song (and have since it came out on Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album). With the addition of Cash in the duet, it takes the song from very good to classic.

So I’ll leave you with that.  Enjoy the video (and the photos of Dylan and Cash), and go see the movie.

More to come…

DJB

Hope Springs Eternal

Bottom of the 33rdWith less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers report (11 days to be exact, but who’s counting?), it seemed like a good time to get into baseball shape…with a visit to the bookshelf.

I had picked up Dan Barry’s 2011 book Bottom of the 33rd:  Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game while on a recent trip to Politics and Prose bookstore (home, by the way, of one of the best baseball sections of any bookstore in the Washington area).  I thought it looked like a fun read – a story about the longest game in baseball history. But what I found was much more – a little gem.

The game began at 8 p.m. after a 30 minute delay due to faulty lighting on April 18, 1981 – Holy Saturday – and was extended until 4 a.m. on Easter morning, April 19th, when the game was suspended after 32 innings and 8 hours with a 2-2 tie.  Two months later, on June 23rd, the Rochester Red Wings and Pawtucket Red Sox resumed the game at the top of the 33rd. In 18 minutes it was all over, a 3-2 Pawtucket win.

One of my favorite titles is Tom Boswell’s How Life Imitates the World Seriesand Dan Barry’s book is full of the intersections of baseball and life, told against the backdrop of the holiest day of the Christian calendar. There are two future Hall-of-Famers in the lineups – Pawtucket’s Wade Boggs and Rochester’s Cal Ripken, Jr. (known in those days as J.R.). But since this is Triple A minor league baseball, the intriguing stories are about the men who have devoted their lives to baseball and yet – except for the occasional “cup of coffee” stint in the big leagues – won’t make it to the next level.

The game would have never achieved notoriety if the rule book that umpire Daniel Cregg was using wasn’t missing the section on an automatic curfew after 12:50 a.m. – a slip up in the International League offices that year. This book is full of such “you won’t  believe this” stories. Pawtucket pitcher Luis Aponte is permitted to head home after pitching three innings in relief, yet when he arrives his wife won’t let him in the door because she doesn’t believe his story as to why he was out until 3 a.m. Rochester outfielder Dallas Williams went 0 for 13 in the game – a “bad month.” Pawtucket’s Sam Bowen hit a ball so hard that it left the field…but the nasty wind blowing straight in blew it back into play and into the glove of the outfielder.

And because baseball is life, there is the bittersweet and sad to go along with the merely funny. The most touching story focuses on Red Sox first baseman Dave Koza and his new wife Ann, one of only 19 fans to stay to the end of the 8 hour marathon. Koza was a strong but inconsistent power hitter who happened to be in the Boston farm system when the team had an abundance of slugging first basemen. Koza got the winning hit in the longest game, a loopy single over Cal Ripken’s head, but he never made it to “the show.” After leaving baseball he struggled into alcoholism, and his devoted wife finally left with their three children. But in the touching final chapter, entitled “Thirty Years Later,” Koza and his former wife let Barry tell their story of hitting bottom, and then being rescued through the help of AA.  Koza now visits with his wife and her husband and takes his children to Cooperstown, where he mentions to the officials that he played in the longest game and is immediately escorted to the exhibit of the game. Hope and redemption permeate the story from start to finish.

I try to stay to the end of baseball games, but don’t always succeed.  After Bottom of the 33rd I might think again as I rise up to leave before that final out.

More to come…

DJB