24 February 2008

Academy Awards Best Picture Review

One of the challenges on my 40 by 40 list is to see all of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees. Well, for the first time in the history I actually managed to see all five of them. What's more, with a 10:15 am screening of Juno this morning, I squeaked in just under the wire.

So, with hours to go, I can make my bold proclamation for which film SHOULD win the Best Picture category. I am not even going to try guess how the crazy members of the Academy actually voted. Ever since Helen Hunt won Best Actress and Jack Nicholson won Best Actor for the execrable film As Good as it Gets over the far, far, far, more worthy Robert Duvall in The Apostle, Dustin Hoffman in Wag the Dog, Julie Christie in Afterglow and perhaps most of all Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown, I can't really trust their collective judgement. After many years of a multi-year boycott, I think they have somewhat redeemed themselves in recent years. But I still feel the bitter sting of that dark night in 1997. I digress.

Here is how I think the films stack up with the most deserving in the number one spot and the least deserving in the five spot.

1. No Country For Old Men.
Violent and gruesome, not usually my thing, but an excellent film. Scary, chilling, well-paced, fascinating. All of the actors in this movie are fantastic. Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin all deserve high praise, but so do bit actors like Gene Jones in the role of the gas station owner and Kelly MacDonald as Carla Jean Moss.

2. Atonement.
A literary costume drama, right up my alley. A fabulous movie. I found it captivating and clever, with some twists I didn't expect. I also appreciated that it didn't go for cheap emotion. Loved every minute of this film.

3. (Tie) Michael Clayton and Juno.
Both are very good films but don't necessarily seem Oscar-worthy. Of course if you compare them to that piece of crap As Good as it Gets discussed above, they are absolutely marvels of cinematic greatness. George Clooney seems incapable of making bad movies. I really enjoyed this film. I thought it was gripping and I thought Tilda Swinton was amazing. If she is up for an award she deserves to win for not over playing this character. Juno was leagues better than your average comedy but that bar is set so low these days that I think this one gets an Oscar nod because it reminded everyone that not every comedy has to dripping in treacle or be some cartoonish spoof of some 1970's stereotype.

5. If I could, I would place There Will be Blood in 87th place.
Perhaps there is some artistic merit to this yawner of a movie, but I wasn't able to identify what it would be. Man, I hated this movie. It was glacial in pace about two hours too long, and totally uncompelling in any way. The characters didn't inspire any kind of emotional reaction whatsoever. Not love, hate, compassion, pity...nothing. And it is no fault of the actors, although I do think that Daniel Day-Lewis sounded like he was pretending to be a newscaster or something, I never never quite got used to his voice and accent. If you haven't seen this one skip it. Or rent it as a cure for insomnia.

07 February 2008

Looking for the Womenfolk?

If you are looking for information on The Womenfolk, look no further. You can read the original tribute here. To see what the surviving members look like you can click here.


Other Womenfolk related stories can be found here, here, and here.

04 February 2008

Getting Connected


For five years I worked in an office building at L'Enfant Plaza in Washington DC. For those who don't know the place, it sounds kind of picturesque. On the one hand Pierre Charles L'Enfant was, after all the man who mapped out Washington's crazy but beautiful street grid. With its criss-crossing avenues his plan not only lines up some amazing sightlines, but also created hundreds of little squares, triangles, and circles that help give DC its distinctive look. On the other hand, you have the word "plaza" which in this country is pretty much synonymous with ugly, wind-swept, patches of charmless concrete--examples of the worst kind of post-war planning and design, or equally monstrous suburban shopping centers. (Foreign variations of the word like the Italian piazza, the French place, or the Spanish plaza, and their physical manifestations are everything that American Plazas are not. Beautiful, full of life, etc.)

Long story short, in a city of amazing neighborhoods and open spaces, L'Enfant Plaza, is easily one the ugliest and souless parts of the city. It is a ghetto for federal employees entombed inside each day for 8 hours, and virtually deserted after hours. It is disheartening to see tourists from all over the country and the world emerge from the Metro station only to see the ugliness of the area. I used to have to fight an overwhelming need to apologize to them and explain that the rest of the city is not that ugly. I was always quick to offer directions to tourists looking in vain for the Air and Space Museum or the National Mall, hoping that my friendly help would make them forget the ugliness around them.

But wait you say, L'Enfant Plaza is home to the works of some pretty famous architects like Marcel Breuer, I.M. Pei, and Edward Durrell Stone. Methinks that their works are part of the problem. They seem to have believed more in the purity of their designs than they did in the need for humans to use them. Stone perhaps made the best effort by creating an open courtyard with a fountain and seating that was home to a weekly farmers market and providing the only outdoor space that was even remotely hospitable to the folks who work in the area. But even that small gesture will be lost now that the owners have stripped Stone's facade off the building and plan to enclose the outdoor space to increase their rentable square footage.

But now I work in Old Town Alexandria. I have a longer commute, going from DC out to Virginia and staying on the Yellow Line about 20 minutes longer than I used to. But oddly enough the longer commute is actually more pleasant. Besides the fact that I have more time to read, I also have the opportunity each day to make a connection with the Potomac River. Each day as Metro emerges from its tunnel on the banks of the Potomac, I look up from whatever I am reading to take in the river. I notice how the water looks each day (blue, green, brown, calm, choppy, littered, clean), who is on the river (security boats, crews from Georgetown or one of the other colleges), what the weather is doing (dramatic clouds down river with a sliver of orange light peeking out), which way the planes at National are landing (ocassionally having one pass right over the moving train), checking out how bad the commute is for all of the fools crossing the river in their cars, and a million other details.

Observing all of this from my climate controlled Metrorail car, I feel so much more a part of the city and connected to life--in a way that seemed impossible when I worked at L'Enfant Plaza. Even as I think about the things people throw into the river, the invasive snakehead fish that are now populating the waters, the raw sewage that overflows DC's antiquated sewer system, and all of the polluting runoff from cars and over-fertilized lawns, I can't help but feel hopeful. Its volume of ever-changing water allows me to think about the endlessly renewing possibilities of life rather than the monuments to the failed idea that abstract concepts turned to concrete are more important than the needs of the human soul.

02 February 2008

Spending too much money on iTunes

When I was in college I sold all of my records (that's right vinyl) to buy groceries. Groove Monster, a used record store in Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota ended up with my entire collection. I don't think I really had anything collectible, but it was traumatic to let some of those discs go nonetheless. The advent of iTunes has been an amazing remedy for that loss and the cause of many a nostalgic moment. The ability to find and download my favorite parts of that record collection is fantastic. I can get old Laurie Anderson, vintage OMD, and my favorite Siouxsie and the Banshees cuts. Perhaps most liberating is the the ability to get a few singles here there that I would have been embarassed to be caught listening to, let alone owning, back in the day. Like Kyrie by Mr. Mister. Who wants to stand up and admit they own that? Yet I stand guilty of plunking down my 99 cents to download it onto my iPod and loving it. And with the ability to sample all of the songs in the catalog, who hasn't come across new and interesting music?

Not so with classical music. Although there is a lot of it available on iTunes, the search engine and the way they are classified doesn't make it easy to stumble across the new and the unfamilar. Plus for me browsing classical music was a hobby of mine that is not as fulfilling online as it is in person.

By the time Tower Records bit the dust I must admit I wasn't surprised. I watched over the years as the classical section got smaller and smaller, but I knew the end was near when the pop/rock/r&b/rap section started to shrink in favor of magazines and DVDs. My "local" Tower was the one here in DC right near The George Washington University. I loved the fact that it was open until midnight 365 days a year. On those nights when I was a little restless and bored I would walk from Dupont Circle and and spend hours wandering through the rows of CDs in the classical music room. I can remember more than one Christmas Eve browsing the bins until closing time. I didn't even need to buy anything. I would flip through the once huge classical selection contemplating the merits and demerits of each recording with the help of the well-worn Penguin and Gramophone guides.

Over the past few years the degradation of the classical sanctuary at Tower became so depressing that I can't say that I didn't feel a tiny bit of relief when the whole store closed. It was time to put the ailing classical section out of its misery. Thankfully there are truly amazing options for finding all kinds of classical music CDs online but I fear that my days of the serendipitous surprise discovery are over.

But I can get all the Mr. Mister I could ever want.